Luxembourg-based startup Maana Electric aims to send small warehouse container-like boxes, that are capable of building solar panels using only electricity and sand, to Earth’s deserts in order to help fight climate change.
If that goes according to plan, the company then hopes to breach the final frontier by sending their boxes to the Moon, Mars, and beyond in order to aid future space colonies with their energy requirements, a report from Inverse explains.
The process of the company’s product, Terrabox, almost seems too simple to be true. As Maana Electric explains on its website, the Terrabox “is a fully automated factory, capable of producing solar panels using only sand and electricity as inputs.” The mini-factories fit inside shipping containers, meaning they can be transported to remote desert locations where they can produce the solar panels needed to harvest clean solar energy. Aside from helping combat climate change, the potentially revolutionary product could also help reduce the reliance of renewable energy operators on China, which manufactures the majority of the world’s photovoltaic solar panels.
Converting the Moon into a power source for space travel
Maana Electric says it will pilot its technology here on Earth in 2022 while also developing a Moon-bound version of its Terrabox that would convert lunar regolith into high-purity silicon. This, in theory, should allow it to produce one megawatt of solar panels annually. The solar panel-building process also releases oxygen as a byproduct, which could be utilized by future astronauts to create breathable environments in space.
Maana Electric’s space Terrabox is being designed to be lighter so that it can be easily transported off-world. The company’s CEO Joost van Oorschot told Inverse that the Terrabox made for Earth and the one made for space share approximately 60 percent of the same technology.
With NASA’s Artemis and Lunar Gateway missions set to establish a human presence on the Moon from 2024, Maana Electric’s technology could help establish a human presence on our nearest celestial neighbor. According to German solar company Desertec, covering only a small patch of the Sahara desert in solar panels could provide enough energy for the entire planet — so imagine what could be achieved if large solar farms on the Moon. If the plans of NASA and companies like Maana Electric are a success, a future energy-abundant Moon could act as a springboard for humanity that can truly be able to call itself a spacefaring civilization.