BASALT RESEARCH

SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS FOR EARTH & SPACE

We are researching various methods for using Hawaiian volcanic basalt as an in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) material. ISRU is a process of taking locally available, raw materials and transforming them into useful resources like oxygen, water, fuel and building materials. Hawaiʻi’s volcanic basalt has very similar properties to the regolith found on the Moon and Mars, and presents an excellent medium for developing ISRU techniques for Earth and space applications.

In 2015, we led an innovative project in partnership with NASA SwampWorks to robotically build a vertical launch-and-landing pad using only volcanic basalt. The project yielded a product that exceeds the strength of residential-grade concrete. In 2017, we partnered with Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Systems to develop Planetary LEGOs under a Phase 1 NASA Small Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grant. The project produced an interlocking brick design made with sintered basalt that could be autonomously placed by a robot. Our latest sintered basalt tiles demonstrate exceptional durability and strength, exceeding the properties of commercial-grade concrete by several degrees. 

We are also exploring other uses for sintered basalt including Continuous Basalt Fiber (CBF) and products derived from basalt fiber. CBF composites are gaining increasing interest in the aerospace industry due to properties like high heat tolerance, UV protection and resistance to rust and chemical erosion. As of 2019, the global CBF market is valued at roughly $100 million and forecasts predict it will double in the coming decade.

Hawaiʻi’s basalt possesses highly similar chemical profiles to Martian meteorites. The graph above shows eight varying basalt samples from Hawaiʻi Island compared with Martian meteorites. 

BASALT CHARACTERIZATION

Studying our local landscapes up-close, we have developed a detailed index of basalt compositions by sampling, analyzing and cataloging various basalt aggregates found on Hawaiʻi Island. The resulting index is useful for identifying the best chemical composition that will yield high-strength sintered basalt products. The data can also be compared with lunar and Mars regolith simulants for various testing applications.