A team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has developed a sustainable process to make brick-like structures on the Moon, according to the IISc.
It utilizes lunar soil and uses bacteria and beans to consolidate the soil into potential bearing structures, said the Bengaluru-based IISc.
“These space bricks could eventually be used to assemble residential structures on the surface of the moons, researchers suggest,”; he said.
“It’s really exciting because it brings together two different fields of biology and mechanical engineering,” says Aloke Kumar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IISc, one of the authors of two studies recently published in Ceramics International and PL PLOS One ”.
Space exploration has grown exponentially in the last century.
With Earth’s resources dwindling rapidly, scientists have only intensified their efforts to inhabit the Moon and possibly other planets.
The cost of sending a pound of material into outer space is about 7.5 Rsakh, according to the statement.
The process developed by the IISc and ISRO team uses urea which can be sourced from human urine and lunar soil as raw material for construction on the lunar surface, he said.
This significantly reduces overall costs. The process also has a lower carbon footprint because it uses guar gum instead of cement for support.
It could also be used to make sustainable bricks on Earth, it was said.
Some microorganisms can produce minerals through metabolic pathways.
One such bacterium, called Sporosarcina pasteurii, produces calcium carbonate crystals through a metabolic pathway called the ureolytic cycle: it uses urea and calcium to form these crystals as by-products of the pathway.
“Living organisms have been involved in such mineral precipitation since the dawn of the Cambrian period, and modern science has now found a use for them,” says Mr. Gambling.
To harness this ability, Mr. Kumar and IISc colleagues teamed up with ISRO scientists Arjun Dey and I Venugopal. They first mixed the bacteria with a lunar soil simulator. Then, they added the necessary sources of urea and calcium along with the gum extracted from locally sourced gauze beans.
Chewing gum was added to increase the strength of the material serving as a scaffold for carbonate precipitation.
The final product obtained after several days of incubation was found to possess considerable strength and workability, the statement said.
“Our material can be fabricated into any free-form shape using a simple lathe. This is useful because it completely bypasses the need for specialized shapes a common problem when trying to create a variety of shapes by casting.
This ability can also be used to make complex interconnection structures for construction on the Moon, without the need for additional fixing mechanisms, ”explains Koushik Viswanathan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IISc, another author.
PLOSOnestudy, conceived by Rashmi Dikshi, an associate of DBT-BioCARe at IISc, also investigated the use of other available soil bacteria instead of S.pasteurii.
After testing different soil samples in Bengaluru, the researchers found an ideal candidate with similar properties: “Bacillus velezensis”.
Just one bottle of ” S.pasteurii ” can cost Rs 50,000; B. velezensis, on the other hand, is about ten times less expensive, say researchers.
“We have another distance to look at before we look at extraterrestrial habitats. Our next step is to make bigger bricks with a more automated and parallel production process,” says Mr. Gambling.
“At the same time, we would also like to further strengthen the strength of these bricks and test them in different loading conditions, such as impacts and possibly arrows.”