Human blood could be super tough concrete for Moon and Mars habitats
Space vampires won’t be basing on astronauts anytime soon (and astronauts won’t transform into them), but blood could revolutionize space crypts – er, habitats.
It sounds bloody, but human blood is the secret ingredient that could give supernatural strength to future habitats on the Moon and beyond. Manchester University researchers have proven it with what they now call AstroCrete. Blood contains a protein that can bind to moon or Martian dust to create a substance that rivals regular concrete. Add an acid from astronaut urine and it might give it a positively supernatural strength.
University of Manchester scientist Aled Roberts led a team of researchers in the development of Astrocrete, which recently published a study in Today Organic Materials. The substance was inspired by another project of trying to make glue from synthetic spider silk. It was then that Roberts realized that the same chemistry that glued pieces of glass together would work on both lunar and Martian regolith.
“We accidentally found out that a protein in the blood was really good at bonding glass,” he told SYFY WIRE. “When we realized that the dust from the Moon and Mars are also mostly silica, that’s how we started the investigation. We added urea later after understanding the binding mechanism, and we thought urea might improve the mechanism – which it did. “
Anyone who travels to the Moon or Mars will need all the readily available resources. It would cost an astronomical million dollars to throw and fly a single brick from Earth to Mars, if and when our species finally got there. It’s not a payload that space agencies or commercial companies would want to pay. Astronaut blood and urea, an acid found in urine, sweat, and tears, are both readily available and renewable to create alien regolith (ERB) biocomposites. These ERBs beat the Earth stuff.
Astrocrete improves upon the previous discovery of using astronaut urine as a binder by increasing its potency with blood. Human serum albumin (HSA) is a blood plasma protein that could maintain a habitat that already seems to venture into sci-fi horror. HSA is made by the liver and carries everything from enzymes and hormones to drugs in your bloodstream. Manufactured with simulated Lunar and Martian regoliths, concretes using HSA have already shown higher compressive power than ordinary concrete. The addition of urea made it up to 300% stronger.
What sets HSA apart from other possible binders is that its production does not require any additional synthesis like polymers or artificial resins would. It is the most common protein in our body and it synthesizes on its own. No other material from Earth will be needed either, as the additive that makes it stronger, urea, is also produced by astronauts. But why urea? It’s not just the convenience factor. Urea denatures proteins, which means that it breaks their weakest bonds. Proteins denatured and then heat treated aggregate, repel water and create much stronger bonds.
The only potential negative aspect of using HSA is that periodically donating blood could have adverse effects on the health of astronauts, and this would be nearly impossible in microgravity, causing enough disruption to the human body. Things will probably be safer after landing.
“It might be doable on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, because reduced gravity might not be a problem like complete weightlessness,” Roberts said. “Mars’ gravity is 38% the force of Earth’s, which is at least better than almost zero. However, this is still unknown and should be determined experimentally.”
If that sounds like too much mud for a 3D printer, think again. Researchers tested how well vampire concrete was for 3D printing by creating a thin sheet of it, waiting for it to harden, and adding more and more thin sheets. They then left it exposed to a temperature of around 150 degrees Fahrenheit overnight so that denaturation could really begin and it could completely dry out and reach its maximum hardness. It was then tested for strength and found to withstand pressures of up to 135 pounds. Higher concentrations of HSA and urea will make it even more resistant.
The creators of Astrocrete will not stop at blood. Roberts and his team are looking at what other resources astronauts produce, such as keratin from hair and nails, collagen from dead skin cells, and other substances found in mucus, urine, and even poo, might make. to keep humans alive in such a desolate and irradiated place. places like the Moon and Mars. Especially March.
“The hair could possibly be incorporated into materials as a strengthening agent, for example,” he said. “The collagen could be turned into bio-plastic or into glue, maybe. Either way, we’ll have to be extremely resourceful and try to make the most of everything.”
This gives Bram Stoker the famous Dracula quote “Blood is life” a whole new meaning.