Cosmic concrete with twice the strength of regular concrete
Dubbed StarCrete, researchers at the University of Manchester created a concrete-like material made with extraterrestrial dust, which is twice as strong as regular concrete.
If humanity wants to build in space one day, the current methods are far too expensive and difficult to achieve. Construction in space needs to rely on simple materials that are easily available to astronauts. StarCrete offers a possible solution.
To make the concrete-like material, the researchers used simulated Martian soil, mixed with potato starch and a pinch of salt. The ordinary potato starch acts as a binder when mixed with the simulated Mars dust. It is also a step up from the previous research the team did, which used blood and urine from astronauts instead of potato starch.
The resulting material is twice as strong as ordinary concrete and very suitable for construction work in space. When tested, StarCrete had a compressive strength of 72 Megapascals (MPa), which is over twice as strong as the 32 MPa seen in ordinary concrete. Starcrete made from moon dust was even stronger at over 91 MPa.
The team calculated that a sack of dehydrated potatoes (about 25 kg) contain enough starch to produce almost half a tonne of StarCrete, which is equivalent to over 213 brick’s worth of material. For comparison, a 3-bedroom house takes roughly 7,500 bricks to build. Additionally, they discovered that a common salt, magnesium chloride, obtainable from the Martian surface or from the tears of astronauts, significantly improved the strength of StarCrete.
StarCrete can not only be used in space; here on earth, it can also offer a greener alternative to traditional concrete, which amounts in about 8 per cent of the global CO2 emissions. StarCrete can be made in an ordinary oven or microwave, needing much lower temperatures than common concrete, thus reducing energy costs significantly.
Photos: Aled Roberts