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Fluorinated Plasma Based Oxygen Extraction from Lunar Regolith (FLU-ORE)



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Implementation progress
28 March 2023

Duration: 12 months


Extracting breathable oxygen or its precursors (CO) from materials on the Moon’s surface is very difficult and most research has focused on the use of high temperature, high power methods to process lunar regolith (loosely bound deposits covering lunar rock) to extract useful gases [1]. Current oxygen extraction processes use temperatures ranging from 800-1600 C (or higher) to drive reactions to split regolith via thermochemical and electrochemical means but they are power hungry [2-3]. Low pressure radiofrequency (RF) plasma processing is used on Earth e.g. from lightbulb manufacture to multi-million-euro semiconductor fabrication. We propose the novel use of low power, low pressure RF plasmas, using fluorinated gases, combined with gentle heating of the lunar regolith material (e.g. 300-400 C) for the production of Oxygen and/or CO for ISRU on the Moon. The surface of the moon is a near perfect low-pressure environment for plasma processing as the Moon’s surface provides a good vacuum de facto and the Sun provides a power supply. The project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of the technique on lunar regolith simulant (LRS).The maximum power supplied to the RF plasma system is no more than a few hundred watts. The plasma reactor is configured into a capacitively coupled system, whereby LRS is drawn onto an electrical plate, over which sits another electrical plate. An RF power supply (e.g. 13.56 MHz) is applied across the plates, a fluorinated gas supply flows across the LRS and oxygen and/or CO is extracted and removed for use. The team included in this proposal has recently demonstrated RF Fluorine-based plasma assisted decomposition of LRS at low power, which we believe to be a world first. Our proposal will build upon the experience of the consortium to generate valuable insights into plasma interactions with LRS and to provide Europe with a novel, heretofore undeveloped ISRU capability.

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Fluorinated Plasma Based Oxygen Extraction from Lunar Regolith (FLU-ORE)