Dubbed molten-oxide electrolysis (MOE), the process involves passing an electric current through a liquid solution of iron oxide. The oxide breaks down into liquid iron and oxygen. This is similar to the way aluminum is smelted, but unlike the aluminum process, MOE is carbon free. "MOE could also be five to 10 times as productive as aluminum smelting," says Donald Sadoway, a professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department. "And this changes everything when it comes to assessing technical viability at the industrial scale."
M.I.T. engineers will continue exploring MOE, looking for ways to increase iron production. They hope to build a pilot-cell to validate MOE] and identify potential hurdles to scaling up production.