Indian scientists make ‘space bricks’ with urea, lunar soil, bacteria and guar beans for buildings on Moon
New Delhi: In a giant leap of innovation for mankind, a team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has now developed a sustainable process for making brick-like structures on the moon.
In a statement by the Bengaluru-based IISc, it said that the procedure exploits lunar soil and even uses bacteria and guar beans to consolidate the soil into possible load-bearing structures. The statement added that these space rocks can eventually be used to assemble structures for habitation on the lunar surface.
The two studies were published in Ceramics International and PLOS One and one of the authors, Aloke Kumar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said that it is quite exciting for it brings both biology and mechanical engineering together.
The statement also said that the cost of sending one pound of material to outer space will cost about Rs 7.5 lakh. This process, however, uses urea which can easily be sourced from human urine and the lunar soil as raw materials for the construction on the moon’s surface. This considerably decreases the overall expenditure and even has a low carbon footprint as it uses guar gum instead of cement for support. Additionally, this process can even be exploited to make sustainable bricks on Earth.
One microorganism — a bacterium to be exact called Sporosarcina pasteurii — can produce calcium carbonate crystals trough the metabolic pathway entitled the ureolytic cycle. It uses calcium and urea to form crystals as byproducts of the pathway. Kumar and his colleagues at IISc teamed up with Arjun Dey and I Venugopal — scientists from ISRO — and mixed the bacteria with a stimulant of lunar soil. They then added the required raw materials along with gum extracted from locally sourced guar bars. Guar Gum increases the strength of the material by serving as a scaffold for carbonate precipitation. After a few days of incubation, the final product obtained was found to possess significant strength and machinability.
Meanwhile, since a vial of S.pasteurii can cost up to Rs 50,000, after testing soil samples in Bengaluru, the researchers found an ideal candidate with similar properties, Bacillus velezensis. This is about 10 times less expensive as well.