Researchers from the University of Manchester in England have developed a new building material for future Mars visitors called StarCrete. It is primarily composed of potato starch, a bit of salt, and Martian dirt, and is twice as strong as traditional concrete.
Even though it may be another decade or two before humans set foot on Mars, they will need to procure shelter upon arrival. And judging by what is known about the environment on the Red Planet, humans won’t have a whole lot to work with once they get to Mars. The environment is challenging, with limited resources for supplies, making it necessary for astronauts to be highly resourceful.
Building structures will be essential for their survival, and while high-tech possibilities exist, StarCrete could be one of the simplest and most promising options for creating strong structures on Mars.
According to a paper published in Open Engineering, researchers at the University of Manchester have found a way to use potato starch, a likely ingredient in future Mars missions’ food supplies, as a key component in a new building material called StarCrete.
By combining the starch with salt and magnesium chloride extracted from Martian soil or astronaut tears, the material’s strength increased dramatically. A 25 kg sack of dehydrated potatoes could produce enough starch to make around 213 bricks for structures, estimated to weigh half a metric ton.
StarCrete can be baked at normal home oven temperatures and has a compressive strength of 72 Megapascals (MPa), twice that of regular concrete’s 32 MPa rating, according to laboratory tests using simulated Martian dirt. The researchers also found that StarCrete made with mock moon dust had a compressive strength of over 91 MPa, making it a possible material for human’s return to the moon.
“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 said in a statement, adding, “StarCrete doesn’t need any of this and so it simplifies the mission and makes it cheaper and more feasible.”
Lead researcher Aled Roberts, who is also a fellow at the University of Manchester’s Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub, has explained that StarCrete can provide an alternative option while other possibilities are not yet practical. Roberts’ team has also founded a startup called DeakinBio, which is exploring how a similar material could be used as a cheaper and greener alternative to traditional concrete on Earth. It is worth noting that StarCrete and other new building materials do not require the use of human urine and blood for solidification, as suggested in previous research.