Materials

"Cosmic concrete" can be made onsite from Mars soil and astronaut blood

"Cosmic concrete" can be made ...
Future Mars explorers might build structures on site by tapping into their own blood
Future Mars explorers might build structures on site by tapping into their own blood
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Future Mars explorers might build structures on site by tapping into their own blood
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Future Mars explorers might build structures on site by tapping into their own blood
Samples of the so-called AstroCrete made with simulated Moon and Mars soils
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Samples of the so-called AstroCrete made with simulated Moon and Mars soils
A small 3D-printed structure made with simulated Mars soil and products of the human body
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A small 3D-printed structure made with simulated Mars soil and products of the human body
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By casting one eye to a past where ancient buildings were held together with animal blood, and one eye to a future where humans use Martian soil for on-site construction, scientists have cooked up a new recipe for cost effective "cosmic concrete." Groups of astronauts in space could produce hundreds of kilograms of the material each year, according to the scientists, continually expanding a potential Martian habitat with every visit.

The new building material was developed by scientists at the University of Manchester, who drew inspiration from ancient construction methods that involved mixing animal blood into mortar to act as the binding material. Pig blood and lime mortar was one of the more notable mixes, in which the blood regulated the growth of calcium carbonate crystal, with one study even describing this as "one of the most important technological inventions in the Chinese architectural history."

“It is exciting that a major challenge of the space age may have found its solution based on inspirations from medieval technology,” says author of the new study, Dr Aled Roberts.

More recently, scientists have been busy exploring the question of how habitats might be constructed during future Mars or lunar missions. Loading spacecraft up with bricks or bags of cement would be prohibitively expensive, so this field of research involves investigating how these structures can be made out of the materials that are already there, with the soils of the Moon and Mars a prime target.

Some interesting studies in this area have shown how these soils can be mixed with other ingredients and fashioned into flexible building blocks, bricks that are stronger than reinforced concrete or some that even generate electricity. Alternatively, Martian soil is thought to contain metals that could be extracted and melted down to form key parts of a shelter.

In space engineering circles, this is known as in-situ resource utilization, and the University of Manchester scientists have gotten creative in considering exactly what resources future explorers will have on hand. Working with simulated lunar and Martian soils, the team experimented with using human blood and waste products as binding material, and turned up some interesting results.

Samples of the so-called AstroCrete made with simulated Moon and Mars soils
Samples of the so-called AstroCrete made with simulated Moon and Mars soils

The work showed that a common protein in the blood called serum albumin could be used as a binder to produce a concrete-like material with compressive strength comparable to ordinary concrete. In investigating the mechanisms at play, the team found the blood proteins "curdle" to form "beta sheets" that extend outward to hold the material together.

Even more interestingly, the team found that urea, a waste product found in urine, sweat and tears, could be incorporated to increase this compressive strength by more than 300 percent. That is to say, the key to cosmic concrete stronger than what we have here on Earth might be found in our blood, sweat and tears (and urine).

A small 3D-printed structure made with simulated Mars soil and products of the human body
A small 3D-printed structure made with simulated Mars soil and products of the human body

According to the team's calculations, a crew of six astronauts on a two-year Mars mission could produce more than 500 kg (1,100 lb) of AstroCrete, as the material has been called. Used in combination with sandbags or bricks made of soil, the scientists say that each crew member could produce enough AstroCrete to expand the habitat by enough to accommodate one more person, effectively doubling the shelter space with each mission.

"Scientists have been trying to develop viable technologies to produce concrete-like materials on the surface of Mars, but we never stopped to think that the answer might be inside us all along," says Dr Aled Roberts.

The research was published in the journal Materials Today Bio

Source: University of Manchester

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8 comments
8 comments
Chris Coles
First of all the images from Mars show, conclusively; that the surface is frozen water with the soil being a wind blown top layer. In which case there is ample water available to manufacture concrete, if that is the eventual solution. However, if the surface is frozen, then why not build with blocks of ice and instead concentrate upon how to insulate the inner surface to maintain the structure? Mars does not enjoy an above zero climate; so the second thing to remember is that the best way to build is below the surface. There are many examples of possible under surface spaces, where a hole is visible at the surface that also needs to be explored. Use what is available, rather than use what you will need for other purposes.
Username
6 people can make 1100 lbs of concrete. therefore 1 person makes 183 lbs. So when they say shelter they mean a small concrete sleeping bag.
michael_dowling
What happened to the idea of setting up bases in Martian caves? They are just waiting for tenants.
Daishi
@Chris Coles, I agree with you. Lacking any real atmosphere and enough gravity to establish one (solar flares would just strip it) the best solution to provide any protection would need to be to build under ground. It would be visible from the surface because of the solar panels.
HoppyHopkins
Oh wonder of wonders, NASA has rediscovered Blood Glue. Its been known for centuries, but for myself, I think ehat I would prefer to 3D print usinf fused soil
wolf0579
Whoever came up with this idea, although novel, needs professional help.
WONKY KLERKY
Wot, no mention of The Tower of London and the old Smithfield Market?
promotousa
Red planet.....makes sense now.