What if a lunar base could produce and deliver waste silicon cheaper than coal on Earth? The economics of massive lunar exports
A guest article by Joseph Friedlander
There was a lot of talk stirred up lately by Newt Gingrich’s lunar base speech, which Brian referred to in a post here.
Many people have been dragging out the corpse of Helium 3, whch was really popular around 1990 or so, to be propped up for some one-sided parlor conversation about an economy on Earth powered by Helium 3.
Yes, the Moon’s powdery regolith, over much time, has adsorbed (not absorbed, adhered to the surface of the fine grains) hydrogen, nitrogen and helium from the solar wind, among them Helium 3 atoms.
Yes, this could (by moving vast amounts of regolith and heating it) be mostly captured. We are talking a couple million tons of regolith (it does not go deep, only the top meter or so) per square kilometer, and gardening millions of square kilometers over time (trillions of tons of regolith heated to extract the Helium-3)
Yes, theoretically fusion reactors could be developed (D-T is easier) that MIGHT someday use Helium 3.
Yes, the lunar resource would possibly last up to a single century (The outer planets would presumably be mineable after that time)
But I find this talk unconvincing– it’s what I call “shoehorning a dream”. You want to fit this dream into this not really compatible bunch of facts, and by golly you have got a shoehorn you are determined to use– so in it goes, whether it wants to fit or not.
What Helium 3 advocates want really is a conveniently labelled bulletproof Lunar export that is vital to the economy yet light enough to fit plausible traditional traffic models (using rocket transport) yet expensive enough to add up to huge bucks and a huge slice of the economy. There is huge energy demand so you could mine and market a lot of Helium 3.
IF..IF..IF the reactors existed, which they do not. But lunar diamonds, for example, would crash in price if you tried to sell into Earth’s tiny (and frankly cartelled to death) diamond market.
Now this is frankly a totally speculative post, but let us try the opposite of that, a huge lunar export which this article will admit frankly depends on a massive lunar industrial infrastructure that does not exist. But hey, the Helium 3 reactors don’t exist either, so fair’s fair.
Let us suppose we had:
1.Gigantic moonbase industrial complex
2.Huge (thousands of square kilometers, maybe tens of thousands growing to millions) of mylar or foil reflectors (12 tons per square kilometer) to heat regolith
3.The ability to vaporize regolith and rocks to plasma
4.The ability to magnetically deflect the elements so oxygen is diverted from the metals and metalloids (ideally to capture it– see my post on the Friedlander Cold Crown for capturing lunar oxygen on NBF.)
5.The ability to condense each stream and pile up ‘fallout’ of each relatively pure element
6.The ability to scoop up this element and redistill it for great purity in vacuum
7.The ability to form it into any configuration we need (for example, casting entry body, making fibers for cables or tethers
8.The engineering ability to build power stations, big electric motors and launchers so cheap to use that power is the dominant cost, not amortization charges.
9.We assume for this article penny a kilowatt electric power on the moon, as we have covered before concerning the Criswell plan for lunar surface power. (Google criswell+lunar+solar+power) And far cheaper thermal solar power.
10.And all this can be done so cheaply that the speculation in this article is possible.
Well, that probably encapsulates a few space industrial revolutions in a short list, so lets go on.
The key thing that is easy to miss in that list is plasma reduction of the lunar regolith.
Around 1969-1971 there was an idea called “The Fusion Torch” by Eastlund and Gough that involved fusion vaporizing rocks or garbage and pretty much doing what I listed above–separating compounds, dissociating and separating them, and reclaiming the elements.
Google “energy waste and the fusion torch”
a sample picture is here
This is the report about the fusion torch– warning, LaRouche political site, no endorsement intended, but they are hosting data on the fusion torch.