Connor MacRobbie in lab
Thursday, June 13, 2024

How a research team is using the moon's soil to advance the space economy

If you could live on the moon, would you? A group of Waterloo researchers in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering has set out to help make that a reality by processing raw materials on the moon to power the area as a hub for manufacturing, construction, and human life.

4 individuals who make up the LEER team
The LEER team (L-R): Navid Assi, Dr. John Wen, Dr. Anqi Wang, and Connor MacRobbie

If the moon were another resource for humans, lunar infrastructure would require building materials, which would typically be shuttled from Earth, but if the moon can also provide these materials, why not use them? The research team from the University of Waterloo's Laboratory for Emerging Energy Research (LEER) is looking into processing lunar regolith—the moon's top layer of soil and dust into usable materials for life support, energy generation, and construction. This discovery will help supply the power needed to use the moon's resources.

"Lunar regolith contains lots of metallic dust embedded with oxygen," said Connor MacRobbie, a PhD candidate supervised by professors Dr. John Wen and Dr. Jean-Pierre Hickey in Waterloo's Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering.

A sample of lunar regolith in a hand
Lunar regolith

"Because it already contains oxygen, we can utilize it, without the need for atmospheric oxygen, to produce thermal energy," MacRobbie said. "This is called a thermite reaction, which is useful in space because there is no readily available oxygen."

Thanks to this discovery, once there is infrastructure on the moon, it will become a safe place that can sustain human life and beyond.

Read Using the moon's soil to support life, energy generation and construction for the whole story.