Swinburne team tackles Martian metal making

A team of Swinburne University researchers has published what they say is the first detailed study of its kind on metal production on another planet.

In a statement on Friday, Swinburne said the team, led by Swinburne’s Professor Akbar Rhamdhani, was developing a process that could take processed Martian air, dirt and sunlight to create metallic iron.

“We would like to develop a metal extraction process on Mars that is truly utilising in-situ resources – without bringing reactants from Earth – to support further human mission and development on Mars,” said Rhamdhani.

“If you wanted to build something large on Mars without having to pay to launch everything from Earth (think large satellites, mars colonies, refuelling depots and more), this could be a very valuable process.”

The process is described as using concentrated solar energy as a heat source and carbon from the cooling of CO2 gas (a by-product of oxygen production.) 

Oxygen production has been demonstrated on NASA’s MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment, pictured) project at a very small scale on the Perseverance rover. 

“Hence, Swinburne’s metal extraction process is intended to be coupled with a future oxygen generator plant (one that is much larger than MOXIE) to co-produce oxygen and iron alloy, which can be used to create metals,” the release explains.

The team is working with CSIRO Minerals and the CSIRO Space Technology Future Science Platform to progress the research, which Swinburne Professor Alan Duffy said was, “one small step for metal processing, that can make a giant leap for humanity building off-world.”

Their paper, titled “Metals extraction on Mars through carbothermic reduction”, can be accessed here.

Picture: Technicians in a clean room lowering the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the Perseverance rover (Credit R Lannom/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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