The original plan for Aquarius colony development called for the use of a technique known as electrolytic sea accretion as a means of fabricating a masonry-like material directly from the minerals present in seawater. Unfortunately, later research proved this technology to be false and its original inventor’s patent claims irreproducable. Useful in a few contexts such as the in-situ repair of concrete or as a means to modestly accelerate natural marine animal accretion, the process has proven simply unworkable at any large scale or reasonable amount of energy consumption. This has compelled planning in TMP2 to resort to more conventional masonry materials that still offer some option of marine sourcing, such as eco-cements and geopolymers. Looking forward, TMP would seek to continually improve upon such materials and the structural techniques for marine colony construction using them.
Ideally, marine colony construction favors monolithic structures for their strength and resilience but also demands easy evolution of structure to accommodate changing needs in a place where one cannot simply knock down a building and replace it because the entire colony is a single contiguous structure. Normally these things are mutually exclusive in building engineering. To minimize the need for frequent minor structural adaptation Aquarian colony design will initially favor ‘functional generic’ architecture like that in modern office buildings where space is designed for virtually any use based on how it is retrofit on the interior using lighter materials and components. Ultimately, though, engineers of Aquarius will seek to bridge this gap, first through the use of modular building systems and then through the use of more radical materials and building techniques that allow for safe surgical demolition and in-situ fabrication.
In the early 1960s, architect Rudolph Doernach offered a remarkably prescient vision of marine colonization called Hydropolis based on a concept he called Biotecture that anticipated the nanotechnology we commonly envision today, long before that notion became common even among scientists and engineers. Doernach imagined a future material like a polymer foam such as polyurethane foam, but self-generating from raw materials and with a built-in intelligence such that it could be instructed by computer to assume different forms as it grew or change that form later. He envisioned masses of this foam being placed into the sea and instructed to grow into enormous islands. When complete, the surface would be seeded to support vegetation and cave-like chambers would be formed in their interiors to provide housing and all other functional space. This is remarkably similar to the ‘free-form organic’ approach to marine colony architecture we have discussed previously and which has also been proposed in more recent times by contemporary designers like Eugene Tsui and Andrea Zittel. Unfortunately, nanotechnology remains on the horizon and no such material exists today –though in TMP2 we do anticipate something very-much like it emerging in the form of a material called NanoFoam which we will be discussing in another article. However, nearer-term there is great potential for the development of a material with many of the functional properties of such intelligent foam, even though it would need to be fabricated and finished using separate machines. This has led to a concept we call SeaFoam.
SeaFoam would, in simple terms, be a foamed concrete likely based on a recyclable geopolymer cement but with a homogenous reinforcement in the form of nanofiber or similar very-high tensile materials. It would function as a straightforward masonry material, similar to current foamed concretes like YTONG, but combining extreme strength –far greater than conventional concrete— with a lightness on-par with fiberglass composites. SeaFoam is an anticipation of the likely result of a number of current trends in the construction materials industry including; the increasing exploration of homogenous reinforcement admixtures, the increasing use of foamed cements, the increasing use of on-site concrete mixing systems, the now critical demand for greener alternatives to high-energy carbon-releasing Portland cement chemistry, the growing use of geopolymers as such an alternative, the trend toward increasingly free-form architectural designs demanding more ‘plastic’ materials with high performance, and the imminent mass-production of nanofiber for composite use. It may not be realized by the time of the first Aquarius seed marine settlements but would be likely within a 20 year time frame from the present.
The real power of SeaFoam would rest not in its physical performance but in its fabrication process. It would be produced using on-demand mixing and recycling systems and generated in freely variable densities as a loose or self-standing foam that can be slip-formed or piled-up in large masses and then milled to shape by mobile milling robots and finished with smooth or textured ‘shell’ coverings, the waste material immediately recovered and recycled for reuse. It would even be ‘pilable’ on water, allowing for the quick and rough creation of island masses built up in layers, usually atop a prefabbed base PSP cell structure. Conventional concrete tends to be limited in maximum practical volumes by its thermodynamics and limitations in its physical handling. But SeaFoam could be used in any volume by combining lower density foam masses with higher density primary structural cells and other integral masses, much as many foam composite artifacts are fashioned with higher density material ‘cores’ or layers. Thus it could be possible to crudely slip-form titanic but extremely light space-filling masses of low-density material then carve form channels for networks of higher density material throughout them, producing a monolithic whole.
In effect, SeaFoam would offer large-scale construction a collection methods similar to that of rigid shell composite polymer foam construction -just like that used with surf boards, small boats, and artificial landscapes for stage sets. Because any milling process would expose the closed foam cells allowing for ready strong bonding of new material, its waste would be directly recyclable while it would be extremely strong to begin with, surgical demolition would become a practical strategy for perpetual adaption of SeaFoam structures. Relatively small sections of structure could be demolished and reformed in place without danger to the integrity the rest of the structure and additions would be just as strong as the original structure. With the island-like mound-forms of colonies, deep interior volumes of minimal use use and static float platform cell areas could be completely filled with low-density foam for improved structural integrity, buoyancy, and thermal dynamics. Large utility structures, such as large fresh water tanking, could also be physically integrated with the rest of the structure. With this capability marine colonies would have the option to freely employ free-form organic design at large scales –or for that matter mimic any style of facade design one might imagine short of tension structures— while retaining the free adaptability of modular component structures, thus finally bridging the gap between the monolithic and the modular structure. Certainly, modularity would still have an advantage in easy of adaptability through direct component reuse, but this would come in a very close second with greater versatility. An entire colony could effectively be fashioned a single monolithic piece of material and yet still be freely evolvable. This could allow easier construction of colonies to progressively larger scales over shrinking spans of time and allow colonies to assume a progressively more naturalistic island appearance, the material able to completely reproduce the look of any landscape or geological feature and finished to mimic any sort of natural rock.
SeaFoam would also allow the integration of a large variety of utilities systems and sensors by embedding right in the foam material when first extruded. This would make it simple to employ structural integrity, vibration, and thermodynamic monitoring systems throughout the structure as well as allow for easy pre-installation of utilities conduits using polymer or light alloy duct forms. Light transmitting capability through embedded optical fiber is another possibility, as we have recently seen used in prefabricated blocks like the Litracon product. Just as Marshal Savage envisioned for the original Aquarius colony, the entire structure could be made self-aware of a vast assortment of physical characteristics through its structurally integral sensor web, which would further aid in the incremental evolution and adaptation of the structure as well as it day-to-day maintenance and operation. One need not rely entirely on simulation to determine aspects of structural integrity. The structure itself could tell you about this in real-time as construction is going on and provide warning of needed repair long in advance of any visual evidence.
SeaFoam is likely to become not only the primary construction material for marine colonies and other marine architecture, it may find itself employed in all sorts of terrestrial construction and arrive at equivalents based on space-sourced materials for use beyond Earth. It would be green and far outperform conventional concrete at a much reduced material and energy overhead, making it potentially the key material for realization of arcology development. It’s most certainly going to be well suited to the role of meteoroid shielding for large habitat structures and the erection of large span heavy shielded enclosures on lunar and planetary surfaces –assuming appropriate materials can be locally sourced. SeaFoam would also foreshadow the development of later NanoFoam and other polymorphic nanocomposites which are likely to feature similar physical characteristics and favor similar styles of architecture but which would have the benefit of being self-assembling and self-adapting by virtue of hosting nanomechanisms within their structural matrix –just as Rudolph Doernach fancifully envisioned many decades ago.
- Pneumatically Stabilized Platforms - PSP
- Sea Towers
- Aquarian Digital Infrastructure
- Cold Water Radiant Cooling
- Large Area Cast Acrylic Structures
- Polyspecies Mariculture
- Free-Range Fish Farming
- Terra Preta
- Cold-Bed Agriculture
- Small Space Animal Husbandry
- Tidal/Wave/Current Systems
- Algae-Based Biofuel Systems
- Vanadium Redox Systems
- Hydride Storage Systems
- Next-Generation Hydrogen Storage
- Alternative Hydrolizer Systems
- Supercritical Water Oxidation
- Plasma Waste Conversion