• Swinburne Uni researchers say Martian air, dirt and sunlight can be turned into iron alloy
  • The energy source has already been tried and tested by the Perseverance rover
  • The process could be a giant leap forward in world-building using in-situ resources

In a giant leap for off-world building, Swinburne University researchers have found a way to turn air, dirt, and sunlight on Mars into iron alloy.

The team led by Professor Akbar Rhamdhani have published the first detailed study of its kind on metal production on another planet.

Essentially, the process would use concentrated solar energy as a heat source and carbon, which is produced by the cooling of CO gas – and is a by-product of oxygen production in the Mars atmosphere.

And it’s already been demonstrated on Mars, on the Perseverance rover, through the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment (MOXIE) NASA project.

The idea is that Swinburne’s metal extraction process would be coupled with a future oxygen generator plant (much larger than MOXIE) to co-produce oxygen and iron alloy, which can be used to create metals.


Making Mars iron is cheaper

Launching technology into space is expensive, time-consuming, and bad for the environment, so producing resources from other planets allows for more efficient, cheaper, and more sustainable development in space – which in turn allows for greater human exploration and extension of technology, like satellites, that help gather data and solve problems back on Earth.

“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,” Professor Rhamdhani said.

“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.”


Giant leap for off-world building

“Australia is committed to supporting NASA’s Return to the Moon and going beyond to Mars in Project Artemis, and they will require the use of the resources of the Moon and Mars to make that feasible,” Swinburne director of the Space Technology and Industry Institute Professor Alan Duffy said.

“We are using Swinburne’s expertise and industry partnerships in resource extraction and processing to help make NASA’s vision of astronauts walking on the Red Planet that little bit easier.

“This work is one small step for metal processing, that can make a giant leap for humanity building off-world.”

The team from Swinburne’s Fluid and Process Dynamics Research Group and Space Technology and Industry Institute are currently working closely with CSIRO Minerals and the CSIRO Space Technology Future Science Platform to take Mars iron research to the next stage.