IN: Inspiration

CONCRETE THAT REPAIRS ITSELF

One of the only drawbacks of concrete has always been its tendency to crack over time – no matter how well constructed. While this is seldom a structural problem, it can be an aesthetic one. But it’s a problem that now looks to have an ingenious solution.

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Concrete cracks eventually. Sometimes it takes a really long time, but it always will. It’s an inevitability of the medium. And while it this very seldom becomes a structural problem, it can become an eye-sore – particularly when thinking of the long-term visual integrity of your concrete artwork.

Thankfully a scientist – Dutch microbiologist Hendrik Jonkers – has put his mind to the problem, and came up with a remarkable solution. A solution for which he has been nominated for the 2015 European Inventor Award.

Bacteria Builders

Jonkers took inspiration from the human body, and looked at the process by which bones heal themselves through mineralisation. Taking his lead from Mother Nature, he found a similar method that could be applied to concrete – by introducing limestone-producing bacteria.

The bacteria in question are activated when they come into contact with water. Once active, they begin to consume a special food source (calcium lactate), which in turn produces limestone as a byproduct. The limestone produced, remarkably, is able to simply fill up any cracks as they occur in the cement. And because the bacteria are able to service without food or oxygen for 200-years, Jonkers’ solution is sustainable.

Jonkers calls the self-healing concrete “bioconcrete”. It consists of a concrete mix that includes biodegradable capsules containing the dormant bacteria and their food source. When the concrete cracks, and water enters the gaps, the bacteria become active and begin consuming the food source, and thus “healing” the concrete with the limestone that is produced.

Jonkers has also developed a method using the bacteria to heal pre-existing concrete structures.

Drawbacks

While bioconcrete has proven to be extremely effective, the one major hurdle between it and a wholesale concrete revolution is price. Currently, bioconcrete would costs twice as much as regular concrete – something that makes it unfeasible for any projects of scale.

That being said, Jonkers is already hard at work looking at ways to reduce the price. The main cost comes from using calcium lactate as a food source. Jonkers is in the process of researching cheaper alternative food sources, so that bioconcrete can be a viable material for all applications.

Are you captivated by the creative possibilities for new frontiers in concrete? Show the world your vision. Enter this year’s PPC Imaginarium Awards now. Entries close 31 August.

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