Moon Rocks into Concrete!
Concrete forms the basis of the vast majority of modern construction. It’s strong, versatile, and hard wearing, making it a perfect building material for both commercial and domestic use. But there is one downside to concrete, one you probably hadn’t had to consider: it’s very heavy. Now, this might sound obvious, and normally it isn’t much of an issue. But if you’re thinking of building something on the moon, suddenly it becomes a big consideration.
Living on the Moon
But, hang on, let’s take a step back here for a second. Building things on the moon? Yep, you read that correctly. Plans to colonise the moon, or at least have more permanent bases on it, may soon become a reality. It costs thousands of dollars to lift a pound of material off of Earth and into orbit, so it makes sense to use materials that are already on the moon.
Fortunately, new research has shown that concrete built from lunar material could be stronger and more light weight than its earthly counterpart. This is incredibly lucky given how much concrete will be required to build structures on the Moon. The Moon, and its colonisable counterpart Mars, are both bombarded by harmful radiation from the sun, so thousands of tons of concrete would be needed to protect any would-be residents.
Making Concrete More Efficient
The problem with concrete production is it requires a lot of energy, so NASA needed to find a way of making concrete more efficiently. To solve this problem, they spoke to Michael Lepech, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford School of Engineering. Lepech’s area of expertise is increasing environmental sustainability in construction.
Along with NASA, Lepech managed to develop a form of concrete using animal protein which allowed them to make a stronger, lighter concrete. Animals use proteins to make strong materials such as shells, bones, and teeth, so by binding concrete together with protein from bovine blood, they were able to create a new and stronger concrete.
In order to replicate the conditions on Mars or the moon, Lepech combined the protein with materials that simulated extra-terrestrial soils. The first batch they produced was as strong as concrete used to make paving slabs! Critically, it also helps up against simulated micro-meteorite strikes.
Check out this funky video taking you through the steps off building a moon base from lunar materials:
Bringing us Back Down to Earth
Lepech’s main interest is reducing waste here on Earth. He wants to make construction more sustainable and, although bio-concrete isn’t quite ready for buildings on Earth, it could be soon. Follow-up research found that rain damaged the concrete over a period of years, but this doesn’t rule out the possibility of improving the formula for here on Earth.
One of the best things about bio-concrete is that the binding proteins can be recycled, again and again, meaning a big saving on both waste and energy.
This is just another great example of how technological advances in one area, benefit many other aspects of our daily lives. By increasingly the efficiency of concrete production we’ll be protecting the environment for future generations, as well as making it possible to live on the moon. Now if that isn’t awesome, what is?