104. MORE ON LUNAR SOLAR POWER (LSP) AND INDUSTRIALIZATION OF THE MOON
Here's more information on a proposed manufacturing process for LSP (see #33):
Alex Freundlich, a UH researcher, along with Charles Horton, senior research scientist at the Texas Center for Superconductivity and Advanced Materials, see a way to create huge solar cell arrays on the Moon. They can be fabricated by using materials found in the lunar regolith -- the upper crust of the Moon.
Working with NASA's Johnson Space Center, Freundlich and his colleagues have used "simulated" Moon material to devise solar cell devices.
The work has lead to a master plan for the Moon.
What's required is a robotic lunar rover that cuts across the Moon's surface, melting the regolith into a very thin film of glass. Then, a thin film of solar cells is applied to that lunar glass substrate. An array of such lunar solar cells could then be used as a giant solar energy converter that cranks out electricity.Source
This is interesting, and shows how "refutations" of LSP can be based on incorrect assumptions. If solar cells are just burned directly onto the lunar surface, then the whole "lunar factory" idea is a lot simpler than it would appear at first glance. People are still thinking "inside the box" of terrestrial manufacturing techniques, imagining a solar panel as a packaged object which comes from the factory in a box. But why not just make the ground itself the glass substrate, and do processes like (printing, cleaning, vacuum deposition etc.) on top of it, in situ, with moving rovers? The moon is an ideal industrial environment -- it's already at vacuum!
The original lunar rovers from the 1970's were designed and deployed very quickly. As Criswell points out in the above cite:
Lunar rover development began after Apollo 11, and the first rover traversed the lunar surface 33 months later.========
Question: Why build solar farms on the moon, when you could build them in deserts like the Sahara?
Answer: One problem with PV in the deserts is the weather. The power can be interrupted by clouds at any time, and you have to deal with issues like weathering, corrosion, and sand/grime build-up on the panels. The panels must be enclosed in protective glass, and the fabrication of that glass would require massive energy. As of 1994, EIA stats show that 60% of the energy used in glass manufacturing comes from natural gas.
The moon, on the other hand, is an ideal industrial environment. There is no weather. It may also be possible, on the moon, to fuse glass with lens or mirror furnaces (i.e with free, inexhaustible energy). The daylight temperature on the moon is 123°C. You can cook food there with ordinary sunlight. You can freeze food too, at night or in the shadows, because the temperature is -173°C. High temperature superconductors can work in the shade/night on the moon with no cooling. That would be convenient for lossless power transmission, energy storage and maglev mining etc. Oddly enough, lunar soil (regolith) is a good insulator:
A habitat less than a meter beneath the surface of Luna will experience a very constant temperature equal to its mean surface temperature. That's about -9°F (-23°C). The lunar regolith is such a good insulator that the habitat will need a heat-rejection system even at night because of the heat given off by equipment and inhabitants of the lunar habitat."SourceJust for comparison, -23°C is higher than some sleeping bag ratings.
Another problem is energy transmission. In the U.S., the best spot would be the southwest, but what about areas which aren't near any deserts? Do they cover up farmland, or open space, or grassland, or forest, or tundra? Covering up the Sonoran desert with solar panels or algae farms is often mentioned, but the Sonoran desert is not a dead parking lot of sand. I've seen it many times, and it is very alive and beautiful. Covering it up will only increase the footprint of man, and is in no way an "environmental" solution. (Neither is burning coal, even with filters.)
Another problem is energy storage. What do you do when the sun goes down on the Sonoran Desert? This is a very severe problem with all terrestrial solar. The solar has to be parasitic on a waste generating process, like nuclear or coal.
It's also interesting to consider the geopolitics of desert power. If a desert power technology can be established, deserts will function economically like dams. The power can only be transmitted so far, so deserts and their satelittes will function as cores of development, and desert-rich countries will become rich because they own the real estate. Las Vegas will boom like never before. Is it good for the US/Europe to switch from one form of power monopolized by desert nations to another form of power with the same problem? After all, when you talk about the "Sahara", you're actually talking about the property of Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Libya, Egypt and Sudan. They'll nationalize the sands. The moon, on the other hand, doesn't belong to anybody. In fact, isn't the U.S. flag still flying up there? :P
In a word, the long-term solution to peak oil is the grid. But (IMO) there are only two realistic, environmental ways to provide non-intermittent base power: nuclear and space solar (although hot dry rock may play a role at some point). I prefer space solar because it is 100% sustainable (peak-proof), eliminates toxic processes like uranium mining, and moves our industrial footprint off-planet.