Saturday, July 13, 2024

StarCrete; 2x Stronger Concrete than the Normal Concrete

The University of Manchester’s new “StarCrete” is twice as strong as traditional concrete, making it a potential solution as a building material for Mars. Add in some extraterrestrial dust and potato starch, and you have a potentially revolutionary new material.

In an article published in the journal Open Engineering, the research team showed that potato starch can act as a binder when mixed with simulated Mars dust to produce a concrete-like material reaching a compressive strength of 72 megapascals (MPa), over twice as strong as the 32 MPa seen in ordinary concrete. Of course, mix in moon dust instead and you can get StarCrete to 91 MPa.

This strength makes it a possible solution, according to the researchers, for a building solution on Mars as astronauts mix Martian soil with potato starch-and a pinch of salt, no joke-to give extra-terrestrial-suited concrete.

Earlier recipes from the team didn’t use potato starch, instead offering blood and urine as a binding agent to reach 40 MPa. Not every astronaut would be excited about continually draining their blood to build in space, though.

“Since we will be producing starch as food for astronauts, it made sense to look at that as a binding agent rather than human blood,” Aled Roberts, research fellow at the Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub and lead researcher on the project, says in a news release. “And anyway, astronauts probably don’t want to be living in houses made from scabs and urine.”

The potato starch may simplify the process, too, with 55 pounds of dehydrated potatoes containing enough starch for almost half a ton of StarCrete, equivalent to 213 bricks (a typical three-bedroom house uses 7,500 bricks).

“Current building technologies still need many years of development and require considerable energy and additional heavy processing equipment which all adds cost and complexity to a mission,” Roberts says. “StarCrete doesn’t need any of this and so it simplifies the mission and makes it cheaper and more feasible.”

Research showed that magnesium chloride, obtained either from the Martian surface or even the tears of astronauts, “significantly improved the strength” of the new material.

Now comes turning StarCrete from the lab to the real world. And by real world, we mean both Earth and Mars.

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