back to article Boffins say Martian colonists could pee in buckets, give blood if they want shelter

A group of boffins from the University of Manchester have proposed an innovative if unexpected way of creating structures for any future Mars colony: mixing the bodily fluids of the first colonists with Martian soil to create super-strength concrete. The method, published in the journal Materials Today Bio, reflects the …

  1. Adrian 4 Silver badge
    Alien

    Stillsuits

    are what they'll need.

  2. katrinab Silver badge
    Unhappy

    There is the slight problem that even with an unlimited budget, you are not going to be able to get a planet-sized quantity of resources on Earth to take to Mars. If they aren't on Mars, you would need to bring them from a different planet. Then, where are you going to find the fuel, including oxidiser if required, to transport them?

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Hasn't the answer long been a giant tower reaching out of the atmosphere and solar sails?

      The tower has lifts powered by gravity and the mass of products sent back from the colonies.

    2. EarthDog

      The logistical problem is huge. Assuming the water and other critical materials are found on Mars, there is a boot strap problem.

      You need to get enough people, equipment, building materials, etc to Mars to boot strap the process in the in the first place. SO for years you will have to supply the colony long enough to the point where thay can grow enough food, mine enough water, mine enough construction materials, set up workshops and factories so they can repair and/or manufacture all the building materials and machine parts they need to hit the critical self supporting point.

      People make is sound so easy; we mine then asteroids, send them to Mars. THen we take the water from the moon ad send it to Mars. We set up a colony and Bingo! We are living on Mars.

      We should just sit back and work on transporters ala Star Trek and get those working and and hey! Problem solved ;)

  3. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Coat

    Piss-Crete

    see icon

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Piss-Crete

      But what better excuse for brewing and drinking this -->

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Piss-Crete

        Yeah, like in the German phrase "blaumachen" (take a sicko, 'cause you cannot be arsed to go to work / were too drunk last night). It refers to the process of dyeing cloth indigo blue with the help of rotten... urine, which is harvested by drinking lots of beer and getting drunk (or "pissed" as the vernacular phrase is).

        So: nothing new under the sun, which is after all the same on Earth and Mars.

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Piss-Crete

          The Peak Alum works (near Ravenscar in North Yorkshire) used to import the stuff in bulk from Newcastle pubs and other large cities on the North East Coast....

          They used to use it by the barrel for making dye fixes.

          The unfortunate thing is that no-one wants to ship empty barrels back to those cities. They did however make butter locally, so that was shipped back in lieu of being empty. The barrels were coated inside with salt then shipped off... Rinse and repeat.

          Pretty sure they weren't the only Alum works doing this and it goes someway to explain why you see both salted and unsalted butter these days...

          Yum.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Piss-Crete

            The boats from the Alum works didn't transport butter back, they transported coal. London and environs had plenty of cows for butter, but they were painfully shy in the coal department. The piss barrels, once worn to the point of leaking, were burned as part of the process of separating Alum from the shale it was found in. Newer ones were reused, but floated as large rafts back to the collection points.

            From time immemorial, salt was added to butter as a preservative, and as a flavo(u)ring agent. Then in the '70s the Health Nazis tried to ban salt in everything, and we got that abomination known as "store-bought unsalted butter".

            Note that all the butter we make here is unsalted until used, when we add salt to taste as required. All things in moderation, but you can't remove it once you add it, therefore ... If anyone cares, we mostly use freezers to preserve it, but I also usually have several dozen quarts preserved in pint jars (roughly 11 pounds of butter fills 12 pint jars or 6 quarts). We also usually have a bunch of clarified butter stashed away in pints.

            1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

              Re: Piss-Crete

              Correct save for a small minor detail.

              I made no mention of London. Unless its somehow moved to the North East Coast. As for hauling coal...

              Who the hell would be mad enough to sell coal to Newcastle?

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Piss-Crete

      Or with the reference to Churchill perhaps Winstone?

  4. AndrueC Silver badge
    Joke

    Are they taking the pimickey?

  5. Mike 16 Silver badge

    $2M bricks

    Not sure about the other side of the pond, but around here it looks like all building materials are headed rapidly in that direction. Of course, construction workers are also in short supply, so maybe waiting for the bricks is not a big deal.

    1. EarthDog

      Re: $2M bricks

      there's not a construction worker shortage. There's a shortage of workers willing to do the ob for the wages and benefits they are offering.

  6. Andy Non Silver badge

    I wonder if fecal matter could be used

    but would the settlers be shitting bricks?

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

      Not without some form of corrective surgery & attachments licensed from Play-dough.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

        Yes, there's a reason that eggs are, well, egg-shaped.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

          Eggsactly right.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

        They could try this

        http://www.turdtwister.com/

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

      Cow dung is used in certain parts of the word for building - mixed with mud or straw

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

        I've not seen many Martian cows though. Nor fields of straw :-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

          There are vines, though. Lots of them.

    3. navidier

      Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

      > but would the settlers be shitting bricks?

      They could always take some pet wombats:

      https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-14/wombat-faeces-cube-shaped-because-of-intestines-scientists-learn/11510952

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

        A more authoritative article on the same subject from a publication well versed in covering such topics...

        https://www.theregister.com/2018/11/19/wombat_cube_poo_demystified/

    4. J. Cook Silver badge
      Go

      Re: I wonder if fecal matter could be used

      I was going to make that joke myself, but you beat me to it.

  7. Irony Deficient Silver badge

    Etymologically speaking, …

    … this Martian product might be called “complasmate” (to focus on the plasma component) or “commicte” (to focus on the urea component).

  8. elkster88
    Facepalm

    Is it difficult to build on Mars?

    Nah. Piece of piss, mate.

  9. EarthDog

    Where do you get the water for the blood?

    OK, so we use bodily fluids. Including blood. Assume we can recapture a fair bit of water from urine or blood, but some will still be contained in the material matrix. It is likely to be bound up for a long time. SO replacement water will be needed from somewhere. Either Martian or from Earthian. so we're basically back to where we started.

    1. Spoobistle
      Boffin

      Re: Where do you get the water for the blood?

      It's worse than that: the HSA protein is made from whatever your Mars-o-nauts are eating, so you are basically using food resource to make bricks, and taxing your humans' metabolism in the process. It only makes sense if you've got a lot of spare blood to get rid of, which does seem to have rather sinister implications for the life expectancy of your personnel.

      You could probably do this with almost any protein source, but it's a real waste of available nitrogen which would better be recycled into food. I'd put the money into developing carbon-based polymers made by genetically engineered photosynthetic algae fed by concentrators from the Martian atmosphere.

  10. LionelB

    Pissing money up the wall, mate

    Shoo-in for an Ignobel, mind.

  11. Sam Therapy
    Coat

    Seeing as water is so big and bulky...

    Why don't they dehydrate it before sending it?

    Mine's the coat with the bottle of Evian.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crap science and crap science journalism

    While I will say the urine side of the research has some merit, the author of the study is taking some unjustifiable liberties with their claims, and the broader media as a whole is misleading the public on this.

    It's a protein isolated from plasma. Not blood. Not blood bricks at all. The article itself mentions the claimed strength of the materials, but fails to point out the albumin set bricks are weaker than the urea set bricks. Humans excrete very little blood naturally, and extracting plasma would require something like a plasmapheresis machine, centrifuges, and consumable supplies. There is no universe where this will play a major part of bootstrapping a martian colony. The Reg gets to play this because comedic click-bait titles are part of the culture here, the big news empires don't get the same pass.

    The article also fails to mention adobe, a traditional mud brick material, and how their regolith pee bricks compare to it performance wise.

    That said, I expect human waste recycling will be an important issue for any long term martian mission, and putting it to use is probably worth considering, especially if it only involves a spade and a bucket with with a seat on it.

    1. EarthDog

      Re: Crap science and crap science journalism

      the best use for human waste is fertilizer

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Crap science and crap science journalism

        We went with composting toilets in our Nevada property. Turned out to more of a hassle than it was worth, so we dug a proper septic system and truck in horse, steer and poultry manure to compost for soil improvement.

      2. John Jennings Silver badge

        Re: Crap science and crap science journalism

        Human waste has been used for centuries in many cultures - but does pose a number of potential risks. It has to be thoroughly disinfected before use - human waste is a source of many, many parasite infestations.

        Assuming processing involved complete dehydration or UV treatments, it might be OK.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I'm not mistaking

    a series of experiments and simulations here on Earth have failed to give encouraging results. What makes these scientists think humans will do better out there in an even more hostile environment. Correct me if I'm wrong but as far as I remember nobody ever tried to terraform the Sahara desert, not to mention Antarctica. That will be a good rehearsal.

    1. fargoneicehole

      Re: If I'm not mistaking

      Hollywood has taught us that adversity on another planet will likely mutate us and make us impervious to the rigors of the universe. That well filmed and documented human spirit of perseverance will win out... lack of oxygen, water, food sources, and radiation shielding be damned!

      We will thrive ... we will survive ... and it will be broadcast LIVE! $$$

  14. Winkypop Silver badge
    Coat

    Pants optional

    For once the foreman would be happy to see his crew just pissing about the site.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "a technique known as in situ resource utilisation (or ISRU)."

    Isn't that just a fancy official-looking term (it's got an acronym, FGS) for "making the best of what you've got"? Or even "if life hands you lemons, drink their juice, then go make some smelly mud pies to build your house."

    "the use of a protein called human serum albumin (HSA), which is present in blood plasma, "

    Eh, unless this is super-magical stuff where just a drop will make a thousand bricks, won't it take a LOT of HSA to make enough bricks to build structures? I mean, if this is the main binder in a Martian brick, seems like it will take quite a bit of plasma to extract enough HSA to make a single brick. Or maybe Musk is planning to send settlers to Mars by the millions within the first year, so there will be a large and steady supply of HSA. I guess the settlers' bodies won't need it, right?

    Here's a chance to make a bajillion dollars - start a concrete company that uses piss instead of water. If it makes the concrete stronger, we should switch-over to it here on Earth, and leave behind this puny concrete the Romans left us, right?

  16. jake Silver badge

    Easier, faster, much more inexpensive answer.

    Used liquid fuel tanks. Chuck 'em into Mars orbit (yes, it costs), strap rockets to them (more cost), and land them intact on Mars. Anything that can hold a gazillion gallons of LOX and/or hydrogen standing here on Earth should easily be able to hold a breathable atmosphere on Mars.

    For reference, see Skylab.

    How many human-years to piss enough to build a house, exactly?

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Easier, faster, much more inexpensive answer.

      The thing about that idea is that the tanks tend to be very strong in a very linear direction. Landing the things on Mars intact would be possible (see SpaceX for details) but getting it into a usable orientation would be somewhat more challenging without alot of specialist equipment to hand to lay them down without having them crush like a soggy paper straw.

      Also once they have landed they'll need a huge amount of work to turn them into something usable (think taking the pumps off, the ends maybe, possibly adding a window or two).

      You'd be far better served landing some inflatable, airtight tents and just letting the rocket bodies crash so they can be recycled into something more practical rather than using them insitu.

      Now, if you just left them in orbit... That's a different and more practical measure since an orbiting station would pretty much be a must.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Easier, faster, much more inexpensive answer.

        Why lay them down? Think lighthouse.

        Who needs windows, we have CCTV. (Personally, I'd love a picture window or two.)

        Remove the heavy lift engines in Earth orbit, no need for that kind of thing, either to get to where they are going, nor when they get there. Save on reaction mass. Send them back down to Earth for reuse.

        Sealing them shouldn't be too difficult. Mars has some atmosphere, after all. Most of the physical sealing off can be done in Earth orbit.

        Inflatable tents would feel like camping, mere survival, not living space. A house in a fuel tank would be solid, and psychologically feel more like a home.

        Yes, leave a few in orbit to house the crew making sure the landing system/rockets survived the trip[0]. Do the assembly in Earth orbit before throwing them at Mars.

        [0] And maintaining the comms gear to Earth, doing research, etc.

  17. Peter D

    Scab hardened mud huts

    Come to Mars and live in a scab hardened mud hut with a piss mixed patio. This off-planet retirement for Mr Musk is looking more enticing by the day. At least for those of us staying put on Earth.

    1. Lon24 Silver badge

      Re: Scab hardened mud huts

      Something tells me you ain't got a future as an estate agent.

      1. Peter D

        Re: Scab hardened mud huts

        I should hope not. I may not have the highest standards on either planet but standards I have.

  18. Cuddles Silver badge

    The real Matrix

    It would make a lot more sense if the machines weren't growing humans for some convoluted energy production scheme, they were simply harvesting our precious bodily fluids to build houses.

  19. x 7

    Does the Churchill reference............

    mean someone has been reading about Pyecrete and Project Habakkuk???

    equally impractical

    1. x 7

      Re: Does the Churchill reference............

      sorry that should read Pykrete

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't we see it coming?

    Get ready for factory farming of animals on Mars. Blood and urine? Check.

  21. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Why building walls when you can dig a nice cave? It will be a better protection from cosmic rays anyway.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, the answer is to start Mars building with a pub?

    You can't get more leakage from people than by filling them up with beer, surely, and it has the advantage that you can start with a tent.

    :)

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