We heard yesterday from analysts who are wringing their hands over a coming mineral supply problem. A family of metals called rare earth elements and several others are critical for the machines that power the fledgling green economy. From the neodymium needed for the magnets in wind turbines and electric motors to the lithium at the heart of rechargeable batteries, geopolitical factors and a lack of recycling could combine to mean supplies don’t meet demand in the years to come.
But some scientists, engineers and others say they have a solution that’s out of this world. Their idea? Mine the moon.
Bernard Foing, who led Europe’s first mission to the moon and is now head of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group, says the idea is tantalizing because the moon’s composition is very similar to Earth’s. Because some places always receive sunlight, he says, a program could land a purely solar-powered mission there. “One day, we are going to have a fleet of satellites in orbit around the moon and also rovers on the surface that can mine it,” he says.