Power from Water – How to produce oxygen and hydrogen on the Moon

Brief description:

In this set of three activities, students will learn about electrochemistry.

In the first activity, they will build a voltaic pile – a simple battery. This invention marked the beginning of electrochemistry.

Students will then study electrolysis. Electrolysis uses electric current to split water into its components: hydrogen and oxygen. These products can be used as propellants for spacecraft and/or to provide oxygen to support a crew.

In the last activity, students examine and use a fuel cell.
Subject: Science, Chemistry, Physics
Learning Objectives

  • Understand how a battery works.
  • Perform an experimental activity to confirm that certain chemical reactions can create electricity.
  • Perform an experimental activity to confirm that electricity can make certain chemical reactions occur.
  • Study water electrolysis and its applications.
  • Investigate fuel cells and their applications.
  • Write balanced equations for REDOX chemical reactions.
  • Use equipment appropriately to make and record observations.
    Age range:
    14 – 16 years old
    Preparation: 1 hour
    Lesson: 2 hours
    Resource available in:
    Activity 1: Build your own battery

    In this activity, students will construct a voltaic pile – a simple battery – from metal plates, dishcloth and vinegar. A voltaic pile uses a spontaneous chemical reaction to create electricity.

  • 6 zince plates (per group)
  • 6 copper plates (per group)
  • 1 dishcloth (per group)
  • Scissors
  • Vinegar
  • Sandpaper
  • 2 elastic rubber bands
  • Wires with crocodile clips
  • Multimeter
  • AA batteries (Optional)
  • Activity 2: Electrolysis

    In this activity, students will build an electrolyser: a device that introduces an electric current into a liquid using two electrodes. They will use the device for water electrolysis and discover that it is possible to split water into its components: oxygen and hydrogen.
  • Plastic container with lid (with two holes)
  • 2 test tubes
  • 2 steel push pins
  • 2 beakers
  • Copper wire
  • Battery (Optional: a solar cell)
  • 400cm³ distilled water + 12g NaOH (3% dissolution)
  • Distilled water
  • Gloves
  • Activity 3: Fuel cell

    In this activity, students will use the products of water electrolysis (H2 and O2) in a fuel cell. They will investigate how fuel cells produce electricity and heat from a chemical reaction. Students will consider the possibilities and limitations of fuel cells for Moon exploration.

  • A fuel cell
  • A syringe
  • Deionized and distilled water
  • Power supply (batter, solar cell)
  • Silicon tubing and caps
  • 30 ml beakers and inner containers (see Annex 2)
  • Wires with connectors
  • Actuators (Motors, LEDs, car etc.)
  • Did you know?

    Electrolysis of water is the main method of generating oxygen on board the International Space Station (ISS). Water is collected from urine, wastewater, and condensation and split into oxygen and hydrogen in the Oxygen Generation System (OGS).

    The station’s football-field-sized solar arrays are the power source. A similar system could be used on the Moon.

    The ISS orbiting Earth