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. Hawaii’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 a groundbreaking project in partnership with NASA SwampWorks to robotically build a vertical launch-and-landing pad using only volcanic basalt. The project developed a material that exceeded the strength of residential concrete and compared with commercial grades. 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 for placement by a robot. Our latest sintered basalt tiles demonstrate impressive durability and strength, exceeding the properties of commercial grade concrete by several degrees. 

We are also exploring other products using Hawaii sintered basalt including continuous basalt fiber (CBF) and basalt fiber-derived products. 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. The global CBF market is currently valued at roughly $100 million and forecasts predict it will double in the coming decade.

Hawaii’s basalt possesses highly similar chemical profiles to Martian meteorites. The graph above shows eight different basalt samples from Hawaii Island compared with Mars meteorite data. 

BASALT CHARACTERIZATION

During the last several years, we have been sampling, analyzing and cataloging various basalt samples from Hawaii Island to create a detailed index of basalt compositions. The resulting index is being used to determine the ideal chemical makeup for sintered basalt products with an exceptionally high strength and durability. The sample data will also be used to match with lunar and Mars regolith simulants for various testing applications.