It exploits lunar soil, and uses bacteria and guar beans to consolidate the soil into possible load-bearing structures.
These “space bricks” could eventually be used to assemble structures for habitation on the moon’s surface, the researchers suggest.
“It is really exciting because it brings two different fields — biology and mechanical engineering — together,” 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 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 one pound of material to outer space is about Rs. 7.5 lakh.
The process developed by the IISc and ISRO team uses urea — which can be sourced from human urine — and lunar soil as raw materials for construction on the moon’s surface.
This decreases the overall expenditure considerably. The process also has a lower carbon footprint because it uses guar gum instead of cement for support. This could also be exploited to make sustainable bricks on Earth.
To exploit this ability, Kumar and colleagues at IISc teamed up with ISRO scientists Arjun Dey and I Venugopal. They first mixed the bacteria with a simulant of lunar soil. Then, they added the required urea and calcium sources along with gum extracted from locally-sourced guar beans. The guar gum was added to increase the strength of the material by serving as a scaffold for carbonate precipitation.
The final product obtained after a few days of incubation was found to possess significant strength and machinability.
The authors believe that this is the first significant step towards constructing buildings in space colonisation on Moon is a big dream ISRO shares wth million of Indians.