Scientists at the University of Manchester have created a new material called “StarCrete”, which consists of extraterrestrial dust, potato starch and a pinch of salt, which can be used to build houses on Mars. Building infrastructure in space is currently extremely expensive and difficult to achieve. Future space construction will require the use of simple materials that astronauts can easily find, and StarCrete offers a possible solution. The scientists behind the invention used simulated Martian soil mixed with potato starch and a pinch of salt to create a material that is twice as strong as regular concrete and ideal for construction work in extraterrestrial environments.
In an article published in the journal Open Engineering, the research team showed that common potato starch can act as a binder when mixed with simulated Mars dust to produce a concrete-like material. When tested, StarCrete had a compressive strength of 72 megapascals (MPa), twice the 32 MPa strength of conventional concrete. Starcrete, made from moon dust, was even stronger at over 91 MPa.
This work builds on the same team’s previous work, which used astronauts’ blood and urine as binding agents. Although the resulting material had a compressive strength of about 40 MPa, better than ordinary concrete, the disadvantage of the process was the regular use of blood. When operating in a hostile environment such as space, this option was considered less viable than using potato starch.
Since we would be producing starch as food for astronauts, it made sense to treat it as a binding agent rather than human blood. Additionally, current construction technologies still require years of development and require significant energy and additional heavy-duty equipment, increasing cost and task complexity. StarCrete doesn’t need any of this, so it simplifies the task, makes it cheaper and more doable. doctor aled roberts
“Since we will be producing starch as food for astronauts, it made sense to treat it as a binding agent rather than human blood. Additionally, current construction technologies still require years of development and require significant energy and additional heavy-duty equipment, increasing cost and mission complexity. StarCrete doesn’t need any of this, so it simplifies the task, makes it cheaper and more doable.
“Anyway, astronauts probably don’t want to live in houses made of dirt and urine!” Dr Aled Roberts, research fellow at the Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub at the University of Manchester and principal investigator on the project.
The team calculated that one bag (25 kg) of dried potatoes (chips) contained enough starch to produce nearly half a ton of StarCrete, equivalent to 213 bricks of material. By comparison, a 3-bedroom house requires around 7,500 bricks. In addition, they found that the common salt, magnesium chloride, which can be obtained from the Martian surface or from the tears of astronauts, significantly increases StarCrete’s strength.
The next phase of this project is the transfer of StarCrete from the lab to the application. Dr. Roberts and his team recently started a new company called DeakinBio, which is exploring ways to improve StarCrete so it can be used on land.
When used on the ground, StarCrete can offer a greener alternative to conventional concrete. Cement and concrete account for around 8% of global CO emissions2, because the production process requires very high combustion temperatures and amounts of energy. StarCrete, on the other hand, can be cooked at normal “home cooking” temperatures in a conventional oven or microwave, reducing energy costs for production.
Source: Port Altele