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#1 2015-12-29 19:45:29

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,334

Soil Manufacture on Mars

What exactly do we need to do on Mars to make a fertile soil in which we can produce crops - a good growing medium?

My list includes:

1. Getting a good balance of the sandy SO2 and the iron oxide regolith.

2. Adding in some clay. Clay-like regolith has been found on Mars.

3. Grinding down, where necessary, larger rocks and stones.

4.  Adding water as necessary.

5.  Adding in nitrogen. This has been found on Mars.

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4516

6.  Adding in organic material e.g. our faeces, dead skin cells, kitchen waste, and crop waste (once we start harvesting crops). Obviously the more people and the more crop growing, the better. Initially we may need to import rich compost from Earth.

7.  Micro-organisms: earthworms, nematodes, bacteria, actinomycetes, algae, and fungi. Not sure if we need them all.

This site provides some useful info on soil requirements:

http://articles.extension.org/pages/544 … components

Any comments or suggestions?


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#2 2015-12-29 20:15:41

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
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Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

The manufacturing of soil is not all that hard for #6 if we recycle the journey's outward leg to mars waste stream for just that purpose and send it down in a seperate lander. Bring along a small sample of #7 containerized to keep then until needed on the surface.

# 1,2,3,4,5 all require energy to gather, process and seperate to be blended into the waste that was landed there on mars with the colony of #7....in a controlled environment of warmth and moisture to allow for the process to work. Add in a bit of Co2 and we should be able to make the process start with no problems just like a methane digester....

If we need to pull out some of the waste to make room in the lander it will be in bags or containers in order to make it possible to be able to create that controlled environment inside the lander.

I have removed the duplicate like topic Soil on Mars http://www.newmars.com/forums/viewtopic.php?id=7343 from the forum as you indicated....

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#3 2015-12-29 20:53:15

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,334

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Yes, a good point about the outward bound waste stream, SpaceNut...I would think that could be something like 600-700 Kgs for a six person mission.  However, that is 600 Kgs plus that you have to land safely on the surface and that has its own costs in terms of fuel and storage!

Thanks for removing the duplicate-kind-of post.

1,2, and 4 shouldn't require too much energy if you have the right location. No. 3 would of course - grinding it down to soil size particles.

I don't think it's too difficult overall - but I am just interested to hear other people's views on what might be required. 

I have come round to the view that soil trays in enclosed farm habs are probably the best way to go (compared with say hydroponics) - simply in terms of being less labour intensive. The amount of labour required is a key consideration for the early Mars colony.

SpaceNut wrote:

The manufacturing of soil is not all that hard for #6 if we recycle the journey's outward leg to mars waste stream for just that purpose and send it down in a seperate lander. Bring along a small sample of #7 containerized to keep then until needed on the surface.

# 1,2,3,4,5 all require energy to gather, process and seperate to be blended into the waste that was landed there on mars with the colony of #7....in a controlled environment of warmth and moisture to allow for the process to work. Add in a bit of Co2 and we should be able to make the process start with no problems just like a methane digester....

If we need to pull out some of the waste to make room in the lander it will be in bags or containers in order to make it possible to be able to create that controlled environment inside the lander.

I have removed the duplicate like topic Soil on Mars http://www.newmars.com/forums/viewtopic.php?id=7343 from the forum as you indicated....

Last edited by louis (2015-12-29 20:53:52)


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#4 2015-12-29 21:19:36

IanM
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Registered: 2015-12-14
Posts: 276

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

I think the soil should also be manufactured so that these conditions are all self-replicating, to aid in Terraformation. |

I also wonder how former volcanic activity could affect the soil. On earth, former volcanoes leave behind cooled lava, which make the soil more fertile. (http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/mauisoil/b_andisol.aspx)  This would seem to make such places as the base of Olympus Mons and such planitiae as Syrtis Major Planum. The fertility effect is reduced if the soil is highly-weathered, but on pre-terraformed Mars that shouldn't be an issue. However, the minerals present therein also bind to phosphorus, leaving less of it for the plants, which would require more of it for the colonists. Also, this entire branch of thought assumes that the volcanic activity of Mars is similar to that on Earth, not unreasonable but also not, to the best of my knowledge, certain.


The Earth is the cradle of the mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever. -Paraphrased from Tsiolkovsky

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#5 2015-12-30 07:45:50

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
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Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Mars is big, needs for a greenhouse are modest. I don't think we need to grind rocks, just sift out rocks. Keep the fine stuff. And orbiters starting with MGS in year 2000 found Mars doesn't just have "clay like regolith", it has actual clay. Getting results from NASA is proving increasingly difficult. Websites for MGS and Pathfinder were excellent. Since then every mission has websites that are more and more dummied down. The Curiosity website is just tiles with no information what so ever; that website may as well not exist. Using data from MGS, Odyssey and the Sojourner rover, Mars has clay: illite and iron smectite, probably nontronite. I have soil analysis results from the APXS instrument on Sojourner; the samples show low potassium and high iron. It also showed results which would probably mean alkali pH. That was confirmed by Mars Phoenix, soil is slightly alkali. But Opportunity found jarosite, a mineral that only forms in mildly acidic water. Most Mars regolith is fairly evenly mixed, due to wind-blown dust. But Meridiani Planum is different, it appears to be an evaporite plane caused by hot springs.

Simple soil processing: sift to remove large rocks, bring inside a pressurized greenhouse, then soak in soda water. That is water with dissolved CO2. This can be formed by taking a bottle of water and adding pressurized Mars atmosphere, which is over 95% CO2. Dissolved CO2 forms carbonic acid, a very mild acid. That acid will partially neutralize the alkali pH of Mars regolith. Reacting carbonic acid with alkali will bond carbon to soil minerals, the first step to add carbon to the soil. Adding water will also release superoxides, and start decomposition of perchlorate. Perchlorate reacts with acidic water (acid) to form water and chlorine gas. So soaking the soil with soda will result in off-gassing both oxygen and chlorine.

Adding potassium requires either isolating potassium from soil, and throwing out the depleated result. That concentrated potassium can then be used as fertilizer for soil made from fresh regolith. Ideal is a deposit of potash, which is expected where a salt sea has evaporated dry. Bottom of the dried-up ocean basin may have potash deposits. Curiosity is at a delta, where a river emptied into the ocean, it isn't the bottom of the ocean so probably won't find potash there.

I said before how to extract nitrogen from Mars atmosphere, and how to make ammonium nitrate fertilizer. It's energy intensive, but you just have to do it.

Curiosity found nitrogen in Mars soil? Yea! We always believed it was there, but no mission found any before this. That's very significant.

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#6 2015-12-30 08:57:43

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,334

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

I would agree rock grinding won't be required to any great degree - but I was thinking there might be some relatively rare micronutrients found in some rocks that might need to be ground down.

You are right to emphasise just how little of Mars's resources we require in the early stages when we are talking about tens or hundreds of colonists against 6 billion mouths to feed on Earth. [For those who may not know: Mars' land surface is about the same as Earth's (ie excluding Earth's oceans). ]

Thanks for giving the detail of the chemistry - fascinating stuff. Several steps but relatively straightforward would be my summary.

I agree with you about the dumbing down of the NASA sites, BTW.

RobertDyck wrote:

Mars is big, needs for a greenhouse are modest. I don't think we need to grind rocks, just sift out rocks. Keep the fine stuff. And orbiters starting with MGS in year 2000 found Mars doesn't just have "clay like regolith", it has actual clay. Getting results from NASA is proving increasingly difficult. Websites for MGS and Pathfinder were excellent. Since then every mission has websites that are more and more dummied down. The Curiosity website is just tiles with no information what so ever; that website may as well not exist. Using data from MGS, Odyssey and the Sojourner rover, Mars has clay: illite and iron smectite, probably nontronite. I have soil analysis results from the APXS instrument on Sojourner; the samples show low potassium and high iron. It also showed results which would probably mean alkali pH. That was confirmed by Mars Phoenix, soil is slightly alkali. But Opportunity found jarosite, a mineral that only forms in mildly acidic water. Most Mars regolith is fairly evenly mixed, due to wind-blown dust. But Meridiani Planum is different, it appears to be an evaporite plane caused by hot springs.

Simple soil processing: sift to remove large rocks, bring inside a pressurized greenhouse, then soak in soda water. That is water with dissolved CO2. This can be formed by taking a bottle of water and adding pressurized Mars atmosphere, which is over 95% CO2. Dissolved CO2 forms carbonic acid, a very mild acid. That acid will partially neutralize the alkali pH of Mars regolith. Reacting carbonic acid with alkali will bond carbon to soil minerals, the first step to add carbon to the soil. Adding water will also release superoxides, and start decomposition of perchlorate. Perchlorate reacts with acidic water (acid) to form water and chlorine gas. So soaking the soil with soda will result in off-gassing both oxygen and chlorine.

Adding potassium requires either isolating potassium from soil, and throwing out the depleated result. That concentrated potassium can then be used as fertilizer for soil made from fresh regolith. Ideal is a deposit of potash, which is expected where a salt sea has evaporated dry. Bottom of the dried-up ocean basin may have potash deposits. Curiosity is at a delta, where a river emptied into the ocean, it isn't the bottom of the ocean so probably won't find potash there.

I said before how to extract nitrogen from Mars atmosphere, and how to make ammonium nitrate fertilizer. It's energy intensive, but you just have to do it.

Curiosity found nitrogen in Mars soil? Yea! We always believed it was there, but no mission found any before this. That's very significant.


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#7 2015-12-30 09:34:18

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,334

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Yes I recall all the fertile fields below Vesuvius! 

As you say, one issue to be settled is the extent to which the volcanic material on Mars is similar to that on Earth.


IanM wrote:

I think the soil should also be manufactured so that these conditions are all self-replicating, to aid in Terraformation. |

I also wonder how former volcanic activity could affect the soil. On earth, former volcanoes leave behind cooled lava, which make the soil more fertile. (http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/mauisoil/b_andisol.aspx)  This would seem to make such places as the base of Olympus Mons and such planitiae as Syrtis Major Planum. The fertility effect is reduced if the soil is highly-weathered, but on pre-terraformed Mars that shouldn't be an issue. However, the minerals present therein also bind to phosphorus, leaving less of it for the plants, which would require more of it for the colonists. Also, this entire branch of thought assumes that the volcanic activity of Mars is similar to that on Earth, not unreasonable but also not, to the best of my knowledge, certain.


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#8 2015-12-30 11:02:56

GW Johnson
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From: McGregor, Texas USA
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Posts: 3,756
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Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Unless the alkalinity is extreme,  why go to the trouble of neutralizing it with carbonic acid?  Crops grow just fine on the blackland clay/caliche limestone soils around me here,  with a pH in the 9 to 9.5 range. 

Mix sifted rock dust regolith with local clays,  add some raw sewage straight from your mission complete with intestinal organisms,  plus worms and other critters brought from Earth.  Your biggest problem will be finding a site that is not too poisoned by salts. 

Your second biggest problem is a massive source of fresh water.

Your third biggest problem will be a big reusable lander that can ferry down the tons of sewage you created on the 6-to-9 month voyage to Mars. 

Your fourth biggest problem will be creating local propellants fast enough to supply that reusable lander for those ferry trips. 

GW

Last edited by GW Johnson (2015-12-30 11:05:28)


GW Johnson
McGregor,  Texas

"There is nothing as expensive as a dead crew,  especially one dead from a bad management decision"

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#9 2015-12-30 11:32:51

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
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Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Ok, if food crops can grow, then we're fine. But there's also perchlorates, which I'm told kills plants and even microorganisms. And perchlorate in food is not good for people. Acid decomposes perchlorate.

Water could be an issue. If the frozen pack ice turns out to still have ice there, then the location and quantity of water make it ideal. That ice will be not just salty, it'll be brine. Any liquid water on Mars will also be brine. Fresh water ice? Probably only a pole, or at best a mid-latitude glacier. MRO found glaciers in the sides of canyons, but you don't want to land in a canyon. Safe landing location, relatively warm latitude, salt-free soil, and water source, appear to be conflicting requirements. The pack ice location in Elysium Planetia is close to the equator (relatively warm, sunlight in winter), low altitude (more atmosphere for radiation shielding), flat and smooth (safe to land), and if the frozen pack ice proves to have at least some ice still there then it has water. But that will be frozen brine, and the soil will probably have salt. Should have lots of potassium, though.

The issue of ferrying stuff down sounds like you gave up on Robert Zubrin's Mars Direct. His plan didn't leave anything in Mars orbit. My plan would, but astronauts would land in the surface habitat. That would land, and never launch. The MAV would be sent ahead, produce propellant using Dr. Zubrin's ISPP, then just sit there until time to return to Earth. It would launch once. I said in the future the MAV could be replaced with a reusable Mars shuttle; I had thought to base it on DC-XA, but now that SpaceX has a working reusable rocket, use their's. But that also requires a reusable propulsion stage for the ITV, and something to deliver propellant to it. Either from Mars surface or one of its moons. My plan sees the ITV as the only reusable part. The surface hab is reusable in the sense that it stays there, and later missions could use it. I see reusable propulsion is a later phase of settlement, after industry is set up to produce and deliver propellant.

Anyway, this discussion is soil manufacture. I don't think a reusable ferry is needed to make soil. Sewage can be carried down with the surface hab.

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#10 2015-12-30 16:05:57

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,334

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_organic_matter

Just been reading up on the organic content of soils. Typically seems to be in the range of 1-6% but can be much higher.  If we assume 10%, I am wondering how much organic mass we need on Mars.

Judging from this link, soil could weigh about 1000 kgs/1 tonne per cubic metre.

http://www.myersgroup.co.uk/nm/technica … ?pageID=15

From figures contained in the links below,

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/ar … 7702006610

http://gardening.stackexchange.com/ques … one-person

It looks like we might need between 700 and 1200 sq. metres person I am inclined to go for the lower figure (because we will be maximising the number of crops in any given period with indoor agriculture providing the perfect growing conditions and because we will select dwarf species and quick growing varieties). In fact we  can probably get the figure below 700 sq. metres (note: that doesn't mean you have to cover 700 sq. metres of ground on Mars - with 2.5 metres high farm habs on Mars you might average 4 layers - so 700 sq. metres becomes 175 sq. metres or just over 13 metres by 13...that equates to  32 metres by 32 for six people).

So how much organic matter do we need? 

We will be going for shallow root varieties - so let's assume an average soil depth of 0.5 metres.  For one person, that will equate to  87.5 cubic metres (175 x 0.5)= 8.5 tonnes total soil. 

Assuming say 10% organic soil that equates to 0.85 tonnes per person.  For a SIX person mission you would need 3.4 tonnes.

You'd probably only get about 600 kgs faeces from a transit flight with six people.

My comments:

1.  It is unlikely that Mission 1 would seek to supply all the food needs of the people on Mars. In fact, you would need to have back up supplies in case of a crop-growing malfunction on a first mission, so it wouldn't make much sense to attempt 100% food production.

2.  On that basis, I would expect Mission 1 to treat food production as an experimental set up.  It might be reasonable to aim for 10% of the food needs (which I would estimate at about 0.34 tonnes organic matter - 340 kgs).   

3. Assuming success on Mission 1 - you would expand to perhaps 30%, 50% and then 95% on subsequent missions.  By Mission 10, you would probably be foregoing any back up supplies beyond some emergency for a transit failure.


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#11 2015-12-31 21:10:59

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Happened on this while doing base research on the food items to grow....

Top 10 Natural Organic Fertilizers

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#12 2016-12-29 10:09:50

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
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Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

A greenhouse using mars regolith will need lots of enhancing to grow the foods that we need. In light that its either in a sandy form or in a sedimentary patches. Of course fertilizer will be part of it but that will not be its only builder component needed.

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#13 2016-12-29 12:45:38

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,334

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

I think we probably need some automated machines for regolith sifting and analysis which would isolate the required constituents and leave a "waste" product to be removed from the process. 

We also need I suspect some quick process to generate organic material to enrich the soil.  We are probably talking about something like (benign, non poisonous) algae which we could grow in tanks with natural or artificial light and carbon dioxide, plus a small range of nutrients like nitrogen, phosophorus and silica. Algae can be used as fertiliser:

http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/compost … ilizer.htm

SpaceNut wrote:

A greenhouse using mars regolith will need lots of enhancing to grow the foods that we need. In light that its either in a sandy form or in a sedimentary patches. Of course fertilizer will be part of it but that will not be its only builder component needed.


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#14 2016-12-29 14:41:36

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Yes turning poop, sun, algea into fuel and fertilizer we have talked about for reclaiming processes.

Sun, sewage and algae: a recipe for success?

If all goes to plan over the next five years, the plant will produce about three tonnes of algae a day from 10 hectares of ponds, enough to run about 200 vehicles. First, much of the organic matter will be anaerobically digested to produce methane, another fuel source. This is already done on in some tropical countries and for special waste waters, such as that from breweries. The reason for the pre-treatment is so the algae don't have to battle it out with bacteria for the organics. Instead, the carbon dioxide produced alongside the methane is pumped back into the waste water, to feed the algae. A key advantage of the proposal is that the waster water is already full of the nutrients - nitrogen and phosphorus - that the algae need to grow.

Is "Peecycling" the Next Wave in Sustainable Living? Human waste can be converted into valuable fertilizer, if people can get past the "ick" factor.

human urine makes up less than one percent of the domestic wastewater treated at a facility such as Blue Plains, but contains 80 percent of the nitrogen and 55 percent of the phosphorous. To sanitize urine before application, it is either stored for 30 days in a sealed tank in a room-temperature greenhouse (background) or heated for 30 minutes in a solar pasteurizer (foreground).

News: Algae Farming Technology Yields Renewable Fuel, Uses Waste as Fertilizer

Algae Basics - Benefits of Algae which talks about 10 reasons why algae are a promising new source of fuel and other products:

6 Ways to Convert Poop Into Electricity

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#15 2019-08-30 00:14:49

knightdepaix
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Registered: 2014-07-07
Posts: 225

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Is it possible to make phosphorus from silicon by neutron capture in nuclear energy plant. A silicon-28 atom takes three neutrons to make phosphorus-31 by beta decay. Released energy can still be used for energy generation

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#16 2019-08-30 09:48:59

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
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Posts: 5,861
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Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

You want to go up 3 steps in atomic mass? That's expensive. It would be easier to filter phosphorus from Mars soil, concentrate and use as fertilizer in a greenhouse.

::Edit:: Soil samples by Opportunity, early samples. 0.75% to 0.94% P2O5 by weight.

Last edited by RobertDyck (2019-08-31 05:46:19)

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#17 2019-08-30 17:48:50

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Transmutation via isotopic radiactivity control....This usually takes once setup with the elements desire heat to excite the elements into the desire activity of decay and such. This is the Ecat claim as well.

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#18 2019-08-31 17:14:45

kbd512
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Registered: 2015-01-02
Posts: 3,107

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Why would we have to get past the "ick factor" of turning manure into fertilizer?

Weren't we using manure as fertilizer since, oh I don't know, the very first human put a plow to the ground?

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#19 2019-09-01 09:05:07

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,162
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Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Where did anyone mention an ick factor?

Astronauts drink recycled urine. I doubt they'd have a problem.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#20 2019-09-03 15:31:47

knightdepaix
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Registered: 2014-07-07
Posts: 225

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

RobertDyck wrote:

You want to go up 3 steps in atomic mass? That's expensive. It would be easier to filter phosphorus from Mars soil, concentrate and use as fertilizer in a greenhouse. ::Edit:: Soil samples by Opportunity, early samples. 0.75% to 0.94% P2O5 by weight.

SpaceNut wrote:

Transmutation via isotopic radiactivity control....This usually takes once setup with the elements desire heat to excite the elements into the desire activity of decay and such. This is the Ecat claim as well.

If a nuclear fission or fusion plant on Mars, can silicon-28 rods be neutron absorber. The rods can be cheaply made from Mars silicate rocks. Obviously, engineering aspects need to be sorted out but time is given to have the maximum distribution of 3 neutron absorption out of more and less for the rods. Phosphorus-31 would be extracted from the rod.

Is this idea possible? or wishful thinking.

Last edited by knightdepaix (2019-09-03 15:32:35)

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#21 2019-09-03 17:23:42

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

The ecat uses powdered nickel metal, lithium and lithium aluminum hydride (LaAlH4) are combined to produce large amounts of heat (particular transmutation of 58Ni and 60Ni to 62Ni, and from 7Li to 6Li )and in the end two nickel isotopes which can fuse with hydrogen made copper.

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#22 2019-09-22 09:49:56

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

We could test this out and more at the analog site

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#23 2019-12-25 22:35:45

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,382

Re: Soil Manufacture on Mars

Seems we are way off topic on building soils to grow food in...

Building fertile soils

Building Soil, Building the Future

Build better garden soils

8 Steps for Making Better Garden Soil

Making Biochar to Improve Soil

other words carbon in the soil is good for plant growth

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