Project Food & Steel: Settling Mars, Saving Earth!
Project Food & Steel: Settling Mars, Saving Earth!
Food for Mars and Two Planet Steel are running experiments on regolith to advance food-growing and steel-making on Mars, then on Earth!
Food for Mars and Two Planet Steel are running experiments on regolith to advance food-growing and steel-making on Mars, then on Earth! Read more
Project Food & Steel: Settling Mars, Saving Earth!
President Obama, Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Andy Weir, and the best minds at NASA are all discussing settling Mars. Meanwhile many of us on this planet are trying to ensure Earth’s environments remain sustainable for us, our families, our descendants and all life on Earth. The pursuit of both goals can benefit each other as the proposals we outline here illustrate.
Backing this Kickstarter project is a chance for you to make a difference for settling Mars and helping Earth. Your backing can also win you great Kickstarter rewards and even a star reward.
Settling Mars, a project for you to help with
Rockets are expensive. The extreme costs of transporting a lot of food and material from Earth to Mars mean human settlers of Mars will quickly need to construct buildings, make fuel, oxygen and a variety of equipment and grow food from local material resources on Mars. Practical steps can be taken now, on Earth, to make these things happen on Mars.
Consider the rusty sand and dust, called “regolith,” that covers much of Mars, the Red Planet. This is a great resource both as a base for soil to grow food in and as a starter ore for key materials, particularly steel and oxygen. Food for Mars (from Wageningen University, The Netherlands) and Two Planet Steel (from San Diego, California) are collaborating to run complementary experiments on regolith to advance both Martian food-growing and steel-making.
We want to scientifically investigate: (a) processing regolith to separate off the iron and other heavy metal oxides, these separated oxides then become an improved (enriched) ore for iron- and steel-making; (b) growing food in the remaining, improved regolith (with many metal oxides removed) and testing whether this provides an increase in soil fertility and a decrease food toxin levels. If this works, then it will be a win-win advance for two of the biggest challenges to human settlement of Mars.
We are working hard on these projects, but we need your support!
Sustainable Earth, helped by a view from Mars and by you
Growing food on Mars is exciting for kids (and adults). School teachers are already asking Food for Mars for more information. This excitement provides a big opportunity to engage kids and educate them about the mutual beneficial symbioses between plants, humans, bacteria and other organisms that will be required to grow food on Mars and also teach them about the protected environments humans will need to construct to allow Earth organisms to live on Mars. This educational opportunity naturally enlarges to cover the larger, more complex variety of symbiotic examples found here on Earth, how symbioses are critical for sustained life here, and how we affect Earth’s environments.
Half of your Kickstarter backing extra to our budget for the scientific regolith testing will be used to develop materials for kids to learn about growing food and symbiotic relationships, with examples drawn from Mars and Earth. This will include a guide on how to grow your own crops in Mars soil simulant.
In 2015 blast furnace iron ore smelting produced over 2.0 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide (6% of the worldwide total for everything). Blast furnaces are really big emitters, along with fossil fuel burning for transportation, electricity production and concrete/cement production. In contrast, early steel-making on Mars has to be done using zero carbon dioxide emission techniques, since fossil fuels are unknown on Mars. These zero emission techniques can also be deployed here on Earth.
The other half of your extra Kickstarter backing will be used for the introduction of zero carbon dioxide emission steel-making and clean-steel products for environmentally concerned buyers of steel products. To start with, these clean-steel products will include artworks, chairs, and other household items. Artists and designers interested in having your art or design made in clean-steel should look at the Two Planet Steel website.
Everyone’s backing can benefit Earth.
Scientific Testing of Regolith:
NASA’s rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity ran detailed experiments on Mars to investigate the composition and properties of Martian regolith. We now know a lot about it, including that it contains significant amounts of iron oxides (core components of iron ores), and how much it varies between samples. It turns out that Martian regolith samples measured at locations separated by thousands of miles are remarkably similar to each other.
In this project’s experiments, a selection of regoliths will be used that are simulants of, i.e. similar to, Martian regoliths. This selection will have a level of variability that matches that found in the tested Mars samples. The simulants include a well known one (from a volcano on Hawaii) chosen by NASA back in the 1990’s (before Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity), that has turned out to be quite similar to the samples the rovers measured on Mars.
As a preparatory step to steel-making on Mars, Two Planet Steel will test two methods of separating iron oxides (and other heavy transition metal oxides) from the other parts of regolith. One is electromagnetic separation. This is the main separation method used in iron ore mining and enrichment done here on Earth. The other method is a processing step done before electromagnetic separation that should improve separation efficiency. The early processing step may be patented, and so details are not given here, but they will be published in the upcoming scientific papers describing this project’s results.
The purpose of testing the electromagnetic separation step is to get separation efficiency numbers given variations in the regolith composition and particle sizes, as well as variations in magnet strength, magnet-to-regolith distance, and power consumption. A good result would be for separation efficiencies to come out roughly the same across the variety of regoliths investigated, so that the numbers hold for Mars regolith.
Food for Mars has already demonstrated that food can be grown in the established NASA simulant and also that food can be grown from the seeds of crops grown in this simulant in a previous season. A video in the backer rewards section (below) shows a special 2016 feast made with this second growth food.
Food for Mars has extensive green-house growing facilities, and access to sophisticated measuring equipment at Wageningen University (see the main video). For this Kickstarter it will continue its series of experiments by growing many plants, such as cress, rocket grass, potatoes, radishes and tomatoes, in regolith soil samples that have been improved by having iron and other heavy metal oxides separated and removed by Two Planet Steel and also in corresponding soil samples which have not been improved in this way. By doing this many times Food for Mars will be able to measure whether crop fertility is improved by heavy metal oxide separation and removal from regolith soil. Food for Mars will also use sophisticated equipment to measure toxin levels in food crops to find out whether heavy metal oxide removal from regolith soil reduces toxin levels in the crops.
Food for Mars has been extensively covered in the media including National Geographic magazine’s August 2016 and November 2016 issues, the Washington Post, CNN, the Huffington Post, BBC radio (twice), Russian TV, most English newspapers and many others worldwide, Dutch and Canadian radio and a video feature in the main Dutch national news program.
A fabulously tasty and good-looking reward is a seat at the table of feast of food grown by Food for Mars for the project (see the 2016 feast video above). There will be one feast in the Netherlands. We are investigating whether we can legally import some of this food into the USA, so that we might have a similar feast in San Diego, California: If you want to get a update email notice in case of a second California feast opening up as another Kickstarter backer reward, then you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with "California Mars Feast" in the title.
A very cool, specially designed reward is a forward-looking model of a robotic rover for carrying out ore mining and many other tasks on Mars (shown somewhere in the short video above). The model has many Mars mining details, it has 19 different ways to move its 32 separate parts. It is made using plastic filament 3D printers, in two very limited production runs (100 for a large size version and 250 for a smaller version). These models will be exclusive to this Kickstarter; that is, there will never be any other production runs. Each model will come with a uniquely numbered booklet, describing the model’s features, with an inside cover hand signed and individually dedicated by the model’s designer, Rif Miles Olsen. They will come in presentation boxes (clear acrylic plastic for the large models and windowed cardboard for the small ones), and include a diorama view of the surface of Mars to place behind the model. They are not suitable for small children, a minimum age of 12 is recommended for a model keeper. Note that plastic filament 3D printers cannot achieve extremely fine part size tolerances; accordingly, the model part sizes have been carefully adjusted so that good part-to-part fits can be achieved by numerous hand-finishing operations. This makes these models as much hand-crafted objects as 3D printed plastic ones. They should be regarded as fun thank-you gifts for generous backer donations.
Other backer rewards are described in the rewards column, images for t-shirts, tote-bags and mugs with logos are shown at the end.
The last, but not least, reward is the satisfaction of backing a better environment and better educated kids here on Earth, while furthering human settlement of Mars.
Settling Mars, Saving Earth:
Pursuing these two great goals for the 21st century will bring us great adventures and stories big enough that they will be worth remembering by whole generations. This Kickstarter project focuses in on practical steps to make clean-steel and grow food on Mars and on Earth. Both clean-steel-making and food growing will be important parts of the adventures of settling Mars and saving Earth. Imagine what steel-making on Mars will do for the settlement of Mars. For one, it will allow new electrical power generation plant to be made-on-Mars almost entirely out of made-on-Mars steel (you can read of how this can be achieved in a backer reward copy of the Steel Seeds Plan, the introduction is here). New electrical power plants constructed on Mars will make every other Mars settlement task easier to achieve.
Back this project and you will have found one way to enable, and take part in, two really big adventures of this century.
Risks and challenges
We, Food for Mars and Two Planet Steel, are carrying out experiments on regolith samples with compositions similar to regolith samples found on Mars. With this we seek to gain scientific data/information. As scientists we accept and try to understand the empirical data gathered in the experiments. As such there is no risk of failure of not being able to properly engineer, manufacture or bring to market a product that an engineered product company might face for the case of such a company asking for kickstarter funding for such product development.
The main challenges for the regolith separation experiments will in the nature of making and using the equipment needed to carry out the pre-processing step and to accurately measure separation efficiency. For the experiments of testing the fertility of the separation improved regolith and the toxin levels of food grown in this improved regolith, Food for Mars expects the experiments to done without and any problems. For two seasons now Food for Mars has been doing similar plant grow experiments (although with important detail differences that cause different questions to be tested) to the growth experiments for this Kickstarter. Food for Mars has access to all the greenhouse, growing and testing equipment it will need to carry out the current round of experiments. As such Food for Mars is confident it can carry out the planned experiments.
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