Iron Mining On the Moon – The Future of Human Technology?
Iron Mining On the Moon – Resource crisis is an often talked about topic online. Whether it be water, oil, or food, resource crisis are a fun topic to introspect on. Yet, there’s one resource that no one ever discusses. It’s a special resource that makes the 21st century possible.
That would be iron.
Iron is the core metal of steel beams and transportation devices. The high voltage power lines that make electricity possible are steel-based. And as we all know, iron is the main component of steel.
Heavy Use of Iron since the Industrial Revolution
The industrial revolution has been around for 200-250 years. Iron has been the main component of revolution since then. It was required to make factories and production items. Even today, iron is still heavily used.
The main problem with iron is that it is a utility metal. It is used as the basic metal for creating any good standard of living around the world.
From the 1800s to 1950, metals were only used heavily by Europe and the Americas. Ever since the end of World War 2, the rest of the world has been developing economically. Thus, the rest of the world also needed heavy iron use.
The technological boom after the 1980s has made the problem worse. As of now (2017) we have 8 billion people seeking to improve their standards of living with that key metal. All will need iron to develop their society’s urban infrastructure. All will need iron to repair damages to that vital infrastructure.
Consider for a second that iron reserves are projected to run out within 40-50 years at an annual production rate of 2% (1). Children born today will see an iron crisis by the time they hit mid-life.
Thus, seeking viable iron reserves is a necessity for humanity.
Wait. What about Iron Recycling?
While an adopted measure, iron recycling slightly extends the timeframe before running out. This measure is only used by 1st world countries that “care” enough to recycle metals.
Let’s take the UK as an example. According to research, after-use iron and steel in the UK is recycled at a rate of 30% (2).
Now, let us assume that the entire world is willing to recycle iron at a similar rate. This allows us to add 30% to the 50 year limit we have for iron. With that, iron should run out in 65 years max.
Recycling basically gives us 15 years extra before the real problems come along. This forces us to start looking for extraterrestrial options for iron mining.
One of those options would be the moon.
Moon mining is the best option we have yet for iron mining. Not only is the moon quite close to Earth, but it orbits it in predictable cycles. This makes the scheduling of extractions and transportation easier.
Moon mining is not just going to be for iron though. A lot of metals and energy sources can also be extracted in the process. Those include silicon, titanium, thorium, copper, aluminium, magnesium, and calcium.
Iron and silicon are the predominant minerals available on the moon though. Fortunately enough, they’re also the main minerals that power the IT age we live in!
What about the Economic Viability?
Of course, while the moon is abundant in resources, mining is not going to be easy. The environment on the moon is different from that on Earth. Not only do we suffer from transportation problems, but the gravity differs there too.
To be specific, moon mining will be at zero gravity. Special technologies will be required for this process that are not possible on Earth.
Regardless, the mining process will be a lot easier. Digging and lifting ores from the crust of the moon will be easier to do without much fuel or effort. The lack of gravity makes it easy to extract ores without much cost.
Transportation is where we’ll find the majority of the mining costs will be. The distance to the moon is around 384,000 KM (around 240,000 miles). That is a lot of distance to travel just to transport a few minerals back to earth.
Many projects have been proposed to aid with the space travel aspect. One of those would be space elevators. Space elevator use involves extending a cable from Earth to outer space for travel. The problem with this option is that transportation capacities are limited by the cable strength. Current cable strengths are estimated at 5 tons (3).
That is not enough for large scale iron mining.
Other transportation options include using a mass driver. This is a cannon-like form of transportation. Objects are shot from the surface of the moon to the Earth. The main problems with this method is that energy efficiency is low (4). You’re also going to face impact problems. Mass drivers could accidentally hit populated areas on Earth.
Rocket technology is obviously not an option. The costs are way too high for launch and return. Besides manufacturing the space crafts, maintenance and fuel costs have to be factored in.
At the very minimum, 1 lbs. of cargo launched costs around $10,000 (5). That is way too expensive for iron mining. This may be viable for much rarer minerals though.
The gravity argument also doesn’t cut the costs of transport. Proper transport from moon to Earth requires accuracy when landing. A lot of fuel will be needed for that process.
Then We Have the Problems of Technological Use.
Technology needs to be operated by humans. Spaceships going back and forth need pilots for this process. The mining of minerals and processing accurately also requires humans. If it’s not for the mining process, then at least it’s for supervision and maintenance.
Humans need resources to be able to survive on the moon. We need water, food, and shelter. We need oxygen to breathe, which is not available on the moon’s surface. All those factors need to be considered if we are to colonize the moon for its resources.
We’ll be discussing those resource problems in later articles. Instead of discussing mining though, we’ll be talking about human colonies and their sustainability!
Please comment and feedback you opinions on the next giant leap for mankind.
Main Image Source : Pixabay