Is Self-Healing Concrete The Answer To Infrastructure Woes?

Concrete has so many uses. You could argue that modern civilization would not be possible without it. But, it’s not without its flaws. There are a number of ways to improve the quality of concrete, based on how you mix it and how you reinforce it, but anyone who works in infrastructure knows that eventually, it will crack and wear away. Researchers and scientists have been working to improve concrete’s durability for quite some time, and they may have finally found a solution to the problem of concrete deterioration. The solution doesn’t come as a result of enhanced toughness, but rather in the capability to “self-heal.”

Concrete

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Putting The Bio In Bioconcrete
Researchers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have developed something called “bioconcrete.”  It’s a essentially a concrete that’s able to heal itself thanks to the incorporation of a healing agent, which comes in the form of a very enduring, moisture-activated form of bacteria.

The Right Microorganisms For The Job
Henk Jonkers, a microbiologist and Professor at Delft University, created the remarkable combination when a concrete technologist asked if bacteria could be used to make a self-repairing concrete. Jonkers used bacillis bacteria for their ability to proliferate in alkaline conditions and live for hundreds of years without nourishment or oxygen. These bacteria were ideal candidates considering the tough, dry qualities of concrete, and their ability to produce calcite, or limestone, as a byproduct of consuming calcium lactate.

cement2

Image Source: CNN

Naturally Patching Cracks
Jonkers incorporated calcium lactate and the bacteria into biodegradable plastic capsules, and then mixed the capsules into concrete. When cracks eventually occurred and allowed moisture into the concrete test structure, the bacteria went to work feeding on the lactate, multiplying, and producing limestone, which filled in the cracks.

Self-Healing Structures In The Real World
Bringing the concept to life by introducing life into a building gives a whole new meaning to the term eco-material. While the idea may potentially revolutionize our future infrastructure, it would still need to be scaled up. Jonkers and his team have already showed promise for making that possible, as they’ve used the bacteria and concrete mixture to successfully build a self-healing lifeguard station.

Are you surprised to learn that these very special bacteria could be a solution to costly infrastructure problems? Share your thoughts on self-healing concrete in the comments.

Article Sources:
http://gizmodo.com
http://www.cnn.com
http://www.popsci.com

Lisa Myers
 

Is a blogger with an interest for all things mechanical. She is a full-time mom with three active boys, who loves encouraging them to explore the world of science and engineering. They spend a lot of time together playing with Legos.

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