Researchers at Northwestern University have developed concrete they think could be used to build shelters on Mars before humans ever get there.
The team developed a concrete using sulfur and material that mimics Martian soil that is twice as strong as regular sulfur concrete, said lead researcher Gianluca Cusatis, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois.
Sulfur concrete made from the Martian-like substance has stones and rocks measuring just 2 to 3 millimeters, while conventional sulfur concrete made for use on Earth has aggregate particles measuring about 10 millimeters, the team said.
Such differences also make the Martian concrete more fire-resistant than traditional sulfur concrete.
Additionally, the team observed differences in how the sulfur reacts chemically with the minerals in the Martian-like soil.
In regular sulfur concrete, sand is just a filler and does not react with the sulfur. "The sulfur serves as the glue, but there is no reaction," Cusatis said.
"In regular concrete you have cement, water and the aggregate," he added. "Cement and water react to form the glue. The sand does not react with the paste. So we assumed that would be the case also with Martian soil. But it was not the case. There are chemical reactions going on."
The team is now looking into the possibility of using the new concrete for 3-D printing on the Red Planet. It envisions sending robots with 3-D printers to Mars to build shelters from the new material that could be ready for use when humans arrive.