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Soil on the moon contains active compounds that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuels, scientists in China report May 5 in the journal Joule. They are now exploring whether lunar resources can be used to facilitate human exploration on the moon or beyond.

Nanjing University material scientists Yingfang Yao and Zhigang Zou hope to design a system that takes advantage of lunar soil and solar radiation, the two most abundant resources on the moon. After analyzing the lunar soil brought back by China's Chang'e 5 spacecraft, their team found the sample contains compounds -- including iron-rich and titanium-rich substances -- that could work as a catalyst to make desired products such as oxygen using sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Based on the observation, the team proposed an "extraterrestrial photosynthesis" strategy. Mainly, the system uses lunar soil to electrolyze water extracted from the moon and in astronauts' breathing exhaust into oxygen and hydrogen powered by sunlight. The carbon dioxide exhaled by moon inhabitants is also collected and combined with hydrogen from water electrolysis during a hydrogenation process catalyzed by lunar soil.

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