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A Martian Mixture for Concrete

Friday, January 8, 2016

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First we have to get to Mars, but once there…how will we be build?

Well…Martian concrete, of course.

Materials scientists from Northwestern University say the red planet’s architecture and infrastructure should be made of concrete that doesn’t require water to produce and is more than twice as strong as the Earth’s varieties, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology report on the research.

Northwestern’s 28-page study, “A Novel Material for In Situ Construction on Mars: Experiments and Numerical Simulations,” can be read here.

All about Sulfur

So how do you make Martian concrete? The scientists say that sulfur—a chemical abundant on Mars—will serve as a key ingredient.


Attention Earthlings: How will we make Mars feel like home? Northwestern University may have the answer. Image shows view from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.

Sulfur can be heated up to 240 degrees Celsius until it liquefies and can be mixed with Mars’ soil, which acts as an aggregate, and then cooled.

“The sulfur solidifies, binding the aggregate and creating concrete. Voila—Martian concrete,” MIT reports.

The researchers have made a sample of the concrete using simulated soil. They have also tested it, finding the “best mix” to be 50 percent sulfur and 50 percent soil with a maximum aggregate size of 1 mm. The sample also reached a compressive strength in excess of 50 MPa (megapascal), the report says.

“By comparison, residential building standards on Earth require concrete with a compressive strength of about 20 MPa,” according to MIT.

Been Here Before?

MIT notes that the idea of using sulfur to make concrete is not new. In the 70s, engineers actually studied the use of sulfur concrete to build on the moon, but found out that in a vacuum, sulfur turns directly into gas.

Mars has an atmosphere, so sulfur concrete could be the go-to building material of choice…when the time comes, of course.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Building codes; Concrete; Concrete coatings and treatments; Design; Substrates

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/8/2016, 9:05 AM)

A good mix of earthly concrete can exceed 50 MPa (7000 PSI) pretty readily, without requiring 50% cement/fly ash binder. It costs a bit more than 20 MPa concrete, but not that much more. The strongest Earthly concrete category I'm aware of exceeds 150 MPa, more than triple the maximum for Martian concrete stated in this article. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/infrastructure/structures/hpc/13060/13060.pdf

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/8/2016, 9:13 AM)

Followup: Ironically the sister publication PaintSquare has a fairly off-the-wall article today about a record being made out of UHP concrete. The actual strength isn't mentioned in the article, but it should by definition be in the 150 MPa range.

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