Blue Origin unveils “Blue Alchemist” a technology that turns Moon dust into solar cells
by Charles Briggs
Space Coast FL (SPX) Feb 15, 2023
Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company Blue Origin revealed on February 10, 2023, in their blog that since 2021 they have been developing an in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technology called “Blue Alchemist” a solar cell and electricity transmission wire prototype by using a material “chemically and mineralogically equivalent” to lunar regolith.
“We can make power systems on the moon directly from materials that exist everywhere on the surface, without special substances brought from Earth,” the company says. “We have pioneered the technology and demonstrated all the steps. Our approach, Blue Alchemist, can scale indefinitely, eliminating power as a constraint anywhere on the moon.”
Solar cells are usually made from a few key components: silicon, metal, and glass. These materials are found on the surface of the moon, which is referred to as the lunar regolith or moon dirt.
Blue Origin uses a process known as molten regolith electrolysis (MRE) to extract iron, silicon, and aluminum, with a byproduct of oxygen, which would be vital for any humans living and working on the moon, as well as a protective glass cover that would enable the cells to survive for 10 years or longer on the lunar surface.
For decades, MRE has been the subject of research. During the Apollo program, astronauts brought back small amounts of moon rocks to Earth; those samples have been used to make “fake” moon dirt here on Earth.
The company says that when an electric current is applied to the simulated regolith, it “moves and separates molten material at temperatures above 1600 degrees Celsius in a controlled and power-efficient manner while withstanding the high-temperature, corrosive environment.”
Through this process, silicone is purified to more than 99.999%, a purity required for efficient solar cells.
“While typical silicon purification methods on Earth use large amounts of toxic and explosive chemicals, our process uses just sunlight and the silicon from our reactor.”
“Our technology manufactures solar cells with zero carbon emissions, no water, and no toxic ingredients or other chemicals, it has exciting potential to directly benefit the Earth,” Blue Origin says.
Blue Origin added, “Although our vision is technically ambitious, our technology is real now,” and their goal of “producing solar power using only lunar resources is aligned with NASA’s highest priority Moon-to-Mars infrastructure development objective.”
“Once demonstrated and implemented on the Moon, Blue Alchemist will put unlimited solar power wherever we need it.”