A Martian colony needs Synthetic Materials (plastics) for many purposes. An autonomous colony can only survive if the raw substances available on Mars via In Situ resource utilization. While it is very unlikely to find natural petroleum, one idea is the synthesis of organic material from carbon dioxide and water. Another possibility would be the discovery of Methane clathrates in the martian surface ice. Another is the synthesis of silicon based organic material.
The production of plastics requires more energy than most types of mining and separation, as demonstrated by the embodied energy concept. However, it may be achievable in useful quantities from the non edible biomass created by food production. The needed substances are in the Martian atmosphere: Carbon dioxide and water. So, with some additional energy it should be possible to make plastics from thin air. Basically, this is what plants do as well.
Polyethylene is the most common plastic material. It has a simple formulae of (C2H4)n and consists basically of a chain of ethylene molecules.
Polyethylene is produced from Ethylene or Ethanol. It could be produced in-situ on Mars and may be the first in-situ plastic produced.
Polyethylene sheets on Mars might be use for greenhouses, vapor barriers in construction, sealants for structural assemblies and piping. Polyethylene has a very low glass transition temperature and might be used as a flexible sealant materials at lower temperatures than other plastics.
Polypropylene is the second-most widely produced commodity plastic (after polyethylene). In 2019, the global market for polypropylene was worth $126.03 billion. Polypropylene is composed of a chain of propylene (propene) molecules (C3H8).
Polypropylene is obtained from Propylene by chain-growth polymerization. A Ziegler–Natta catalyst is part of a complex mix of catalysts required to induce polymerization.
Polypropylene is used for the production of a wide range of plastic materials with multiple uses.
Polyester is a synthetic polymer made of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) or its dimethyl ester dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and monoethylene glycol (MEG). With 18% market share of all plastic materials produced, it ranges third after polyethylene (33.5%) and polypropylene (19.5%).
Polyester is often used in fiber form for the manufacture of fabrics. It is also used for bottles, fils and electrical insulation. Polyester reinforced with glass fibers is one of the common types of fiberglass material. It is used as a protective coating for wood.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PolyVinyl Chloride is commonly used for piping.
PTFE is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene that has numerous applications. The best-known brand name of PTFE-based formulas is Teflon by Chemours.
PTFE is a fluorocarbon solid, as it is a high molecular weight compound consisting wholly of carbon and fluorine. PTFE is hydrophobic: neither water nor water-containing substances wet PTFE. PTFE has one of the lowest coefficients of friction of any solid.
PTFE is used as a non-stick coating for pans and other cookware. It is nonreactive, partly because of the strength of carbon–fluorine bonds, and so it is often used in containers and pipework for reactive and corrosive chemicals. Where used as a lubricant, PTFE reduces friction, wear, and energy consumption of machinery. It is commonly used as a graft material in surgical interventions. It is also frequently employed as coating on catheters; this interferes with the ability of bacteria and other infectious agents to adhere to catheters and cause hospital-acquired infections.
Oils and greases
Hydraulic fluids, lubricants.
- Space suits cannot be manufactured without plastic materials. The lifetime of a space suit is limited and depends on the conditions to which it is subjected. Probably, the settlement might need a new space suit per person and year.
- Sealant for houses, pipes, bottles, etc.
- Tissue for clothing, linens and towels is made mainly from synthetic fibres. Although cotton and linen might be cheaper to produce.
- Pneumatics need elastic material for valves, gaskets, etc.
The selection of synthetic materials to produce and use should be subject to recycling considerations.
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