Rodrigo Romo, PISCES: Our research in basalts can offer benefits to Hawaii

PISCES is a State agency under the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT). Their primary goal is to advance the Aerospace Industry in Hawaii and to promote economic growth in the State. They achieve that through three main actions:
1) Applied Research;
2) Workforce Development;
3) Long Term Economic Development Projects.

Applied research must have dual applications, that is, it must be related to space exploration but it also must have a direct application for Hawaii, or have a direct positive economic impact on the State’s economy.

Rodrigo Romo, Program Director for PISCES, told us why basalt fiber manufacturers got interested in the Hawaii basalts and how aerospace technologies can contribute to the state economy.

Why have basalts attracted interest of PISCES?

Our interest in Basalt comes from the current interest that exists in InSitu Resource Utilization (ISRU), or living off the land. The idea is to learn how to utilize the available resources on the Moon or on Mars to build infrastructure, extract water, metals, etc.

What is unique in the Hawaiian basalts?

The basalt in Hawaii has very similar characteristics to the regolith found on the Moon or Mars, which makes it an ideal simulant to learn how to build with it. The grant we received is to learn how to manufacture building blocks using basalt only with such a design that they can be deployed robotically to construct horizontal and vertical structures.

Rodrigo Romo, PISCES: Our research in basalts can offer benefits to Hawaii
Image: courtesy of Rodrigo Roma

The work we are doing with basalt could provide benefits to the island in the construction industry. Most of the construction materials we use are imported from overseas. If we can find a way to manufacture construction materials using local basalt at a competitive price, that could improve the economy of the State.

Did you assess suitability of basalts in Hawaii for the production of continuous basalt fiber?

The entire Hawaiian archipelago is volcanic in nature, that means that the base of all Hawaiian Islands in basaltic. The island of Hawai’i is the youngest of the islands and still has active volcanoes that continue to put out lava on a daily basis. There are massive lava fields all around the island that are easy to access. Mauna Loa, one of the 5 volcanoes that makes the island of Hawai’i is the most massive mountain on the world, and is still considered to be active. The other volcanoes on the island are Mauna Kea (dormant), Kohala (extinct), Hualalai (active) and Kilauea (currently erupting).

We have collected basalt samples from four different locations on the island and run chemical analyses to see if they are suitable for continuous fiber manufacturing and they all have proven to be in the desirable range.

Your technologies include building blocks of sintered basalt. Can you provide us with further details?

The blocks we made initially were used as a proof of concept on a project in which we worked with NASA and Honeybee Robotics. The project consisted on proving if we could robotically build a full scale landing pad using only local materials and through teleoperations. The material that the pavers were made out of showed structural properties that exceed those of residential concrete. These same pavers can be used for flooring or any other application in which regular pavers are used.

Rodrigo Romo, PISCES: Our research in basalts can offer benefits to Hawaii
Image: courtesy of Rodrigo Roma

Honeybee Robotics is one of your partners. Why did you decide to make partnership with this particular company?

We have worked with Honeybee Robotics in the past in numerous projects. As I mentioned, the landing pad project was in partnership with them, so when NASA put out a solicitation to develop a regolith derived feedstock for robotic manufacturing, Honeybee was the natural partner to collaborate with.

Rodrigo Romo, PISCES: Our research in basalts can offer benefits to Hawaii
Image: courtesy of Rodrigo Roma

Composite additive printing is being actively developing. How do you feel about composite/basalt fiber composite 3D printing prospects for the aerospace?

We think it has a great potential. We are actually looking at submitting a proposal for another grant that would involve 3D printing with basalt.

You are one of the participants of the International Basalt Forum in Moscow. What are you going to speak about? What are your expectations from the Forum?

In my talk I intend to discuss the work we have done with sintered basalt in Hawaii, give an overview of Hawai’i as a source for basalt and discuss some funding that we currently have to perform a feasibility study to determine whether starting a basalt fiber manufacturing facility in Hawai’i is a good economic investment.

Some of my goals from the conference are to meet with people involved in fiber manufacturing, and perhaps contact engineering firms that would be interested in conducting the feasibility study, ultimately, perhaps find a company interested in looking at Hawai’i as a place to start a fiber plant.

Companies: International Basalt Forum, Moon, NASA, PISCES

Industries: Aerospace, Construction, Finance & Investment, General society, Space

Terms: Basalt, Investment

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