Scientists develop cosmic concrete from space dust and astronaut blood

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — An interplanetary mortgage may actually be cheaper than a traditional home on Earth, a new study reveals. Scientists at the University of Manchester have developed an innovative way to produce “cosmic concrete” that may make it much easier and cheaper to build colonies on other worlds.

Thanks to the likes of billionaires like Elon Musk, the subject of colonizing Mars has picked up steam in recent years. Once upon a time it seemed like a fantasy, but due to technology’s rapid rate of advancement it’s now looking at least plausible that humans may one day set foot on Mars and want to settle down.

Now, the notion of a Martian summer home may sound appealing, but how exactly will humans get all of the necessary bricks and building materials to another world? Estimates show that transporting a single brick to Mars will cost about $2 million! For that price you should probably just buy a house on Earth.

This is where the cosmic concrete comes into play. The recipe concocted by researchers calls for nothing but extraterrestrial dust and the literal blood, sweat, tears, and urine of space travelers. Study authors report that a protein found in human blood, when mixed with another compound found in human urine, sweat or tears, is capable of gluing together simulated moon or Mars soil. Once that process is complete, the final material is actually stronger than ordinary concrete. Bricks produced using this method would be “perfectly suited” for building projects on other worlds, study authors explain.

‘AstroCrete’ stronger than traditional building materials

mars bio-composite
3D printed Mars bio composite.
(CREDIT: Dr. Aled Roberts | Research Fellow Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, M1 7DN)

The aforementioned blood plasma protein, called human serum albumin, will act as a binder for simulated moon or Mars dust, according to researchers’ simulations. Moreover, they’ve already produced a name for the “space concrete,” calling it AstroCrete.

AstroCrete made with just blood boasts compressive strengths as high as 25 MPa (Megapascals). For reference, regular old concrete on Earth registers about 20–32 MPa.

When scientists add urea — which is a biological waste product in human urine, tears, and sweat — to the recipe, compressive strength increases by over 300 percent. The strongest AstroCrete bricks may have compressive strength of nearly 40 MPa.

“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 Manchester’s Dr. Aled Roberts in a university release.

According to study authors’ calculations, over 1,100 pounds of AstroCrete could be produced over the course of a two-year mission to Mars among just six astronauts.

While there is no precedent for using human blood as construction materials, builders actually used animal blood as a binder for mortar centuries ago.

“It is exciting that a major challenge of the space age may have found its solution based on inspirations from medieval technology,” Dr. Roberts concludes.

The study appears in the journal Materials Today Bio.