A dash of astronaut blood, a pinch of urine and a serving of space dust – mix it together and what do you get? Houses, according to a study published in Materials Today Bio.
Scientists from the University of Manchester, UK, blended up a grisly concoction of blood, urine and ‘space’ dust to make brick mortar. They say that future Martian colonists can use these bloody bricks to build houses.
“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 Aled Roberts, a researcher who worked on the project.
Taking bricks to Mars isn’t easy
Moving to Mars will require huge amounts of building materials – a prohibitively expensive task if we transport all that weight from Earth.
However, this new mortar is made from leftover human waste, easily collected on the journey to the Red Planet.
The researchers calculated that a two-year, six-person Mars mission crew could accumulate enough waste to make over 500 kilograms of their material, dubbed ‘AstroCrete’. They suggest that the resulting mortar paste could stick together sandbags and heat-fused regolith (space dust) bricks and potentially double the number of houses able to be built.
This gruesome construction style is positively medieval in nature. Back then, builders used animal blood as a mortar binder – so, the team thought, why not try it with humans?
“It is exciting that a major challenge of the space age may have found its solution based on inspirations from medieval technology,” says Roberts.
Concrete made from blood protein
AstroCrete uses serum albumin (collected from human blood) and urea (collected from urine, sweat and tears) along with soil or rock dust. Consequently, the mixture makes mortar that is stronger than concrete and requires no imported goods.
The strength of the mixture is all in the blood. Put simply, albumin denatures – in other words, ‘curdles’ – to form beta-sheets. These flat, layered structures bond together with enough strength to solidify, just like concrete between bricks.
“The concept is literally blood-curdling,” Roberts says.
Oh, and did we mention that we might even be able to 3D print the AstroCrete? The researchers simulated 3D printing with syringes. The ‘printed’ goop solidified overnight at 65 °C and maintained its concrete-like strength.
So, who is looking forward to living in blood houses on Mars?
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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