Taking concrete to the stars

It has been found that plant-derived starch can be used as an effective binder for extraterrestrial regolith to produce ERBs with compressive strengths within the domain of high-strength concrete, according to research.

University of Manchester researchers, working on building materials for space, have come up with StarCrete, which “displays significant potential as an extraterrestrial construction material” for locations like Mars or Earth’s moon.

In an article published in the journal Open Engineering, the research team demonstrated that ordinary potato starch can act as a binder when mixed with simulated Mars dust to produce a concrete-like material.

When tested, StarCrete had a compressive strength of 72 MPa, which is over twice as strong as the 32 MPa seen in ordinary concrete, according to the team. StarCrete was even stronger at over 91 MPa.

The team calculated that 25 Kg of dehydrated potatoes contains enough starch to produce almost half a tonne of StarCrete – equivalent to over 213 bricks’ worth of material. They discovered that magnesium chloride, obtainable from the Martian surface (or from the tears of astronauts!) significantly improved the strength of StarCrete.

However, the research team is now turning its focus to terrestrial uses as they have forecast hat, further development of StarCrete could result in a relatively sustainable alternative for Earth-based construction.

“For this to be achieved, the moisture-sensitivity of starch binder needs to be overcome,” the team explained. “

“This could be achieved through the incorporation of covalent crosslinking agents, heat-induced crosslinking, or other biopolymer additives such as proteins, waxes, or terpene-based resins.”

About the author

Desi Corbett

Desi is the Editor of Concrete in Australia and at the helm of our magazine for 8 years. She was behind the Institute's weekly news bulletins from 2016-2021 and is now writing our focused news items. Desi has been an engineering news and features journalist/editor across all disciplines since 2013 - part of a 30-year career writing for a wide range of industries.