British scientists are making ‘cosmic concrete’ for homes on Mars
A team of scientists in the UK has developed a new material called ‘StarCrete’, made from alien dust, potato starch and a pinch of salt, that could be used to build houses on the surface of Mars.
Building infrastructure in space is currently prohibitively expensive and difficult to implement.
But StarCrete offers a potential solution, according to the University of Manchester team.
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They used simulated Martian soil mixed with potato starch and a pinch of salt to create a material twice as strong as ordinary concrete, perfect for construction in alien environments.
In an article published in the magazine Open engineeringthe research team showed that ordinary potato starch can act as a binder when mixed with simulated Martian dust to create a concrete-like material.
When tested, StarCrete had a compressive strength of 72 megapascals (MPa), which is more than double the 32 MPa seen in ordinary concrete. Moondust Starcrete was even stronger at over 91 MPa.
This work improves on previous work by the same team that used astronaut blood and urine as a binding agent. While the resulting material had a compressive strength of around 40 MPa, which is better than regular concrete, the method had the disadvantage of requiring blood on a regular basis. When operating in such a hostile environment as space, this option was considered less viable than using potato starch.
“Since we will be producing starches for food for astronauts, it made sense to think of them as binding agents rather than human blood. In addition, current construction technologies still require many years of development and require large amounts of energy and additional heavy processing equipment, all of which add to the cost and complexity of a mission,” said lead researcher Dr. Aled Roberts of the university’s Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub.
“StarCrete doesn’t need any of that, so it simplifies the mission and makes it cheaper and more feasible,” he said.
Roberts’ newly formed start-up company DeakinBio is investigating ways to improve StarCrete so that it can also be used in a terrestrial environment.
When used on Earth, StarCrete could offer a greener alternative to traditional concrete. It can be prepared in an ordinary oven or in the microwave at normal baking temperatures and therefore offers reduced energy costs for production and global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.