Mining moon & mars with microbes: Biological approaches to extract iron from Lunar and Martian regolith

R. Volger, G.M. Pettersson, S. J.J. Brouns, L. J. Rothschild, A. Cowley, B. A.E. Lehner*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The logistical supply of terrestrial materials to space is costly and puts limitations on exploration mission scenarios. In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) can alleviate logistical requirements and thus enables sustainable exploration of space. In this paper, a novel approach to ISRU, utilizing microorganisms to extract iron from Lunar or Martian regolith, is presented. Process yields, and kinetics are used to verify the theoretical feasibility of applying four different microorganisms. Based on yields alone, three of the four organisms were not investigated further for use in biological ISRU. For the remaining organism, Shewanella oneidensis, the survivability impact of Martian regolith simulant JSC-MARS1 and Mars-abundant magnesium perchlorate were studied and found to be minimal. The payback time of the infrastructure installation needed for the process with S. oneidensis on Mars was analyzed and the sensitivity to various parameters was investigated. Water recycling efficiency and initial regolith concentration were found to be key to process performance. With a water recycling efficiency of 99.99% and initial regolith concentration of 300 ​g/L, leading to an iron concentration of approximately 44.7 ​g/L, a payback time of 3.3 years was found.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104850
Number of pages9
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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