It’s easy to see how our world has grown smarter with us; we’ve got smart phones, smart fridges, smart floss, the lot. So, as one of the UK’s largest industries, creating smart materials for construction makes perfect sense.
Concrete is resilient and easy to source, making it one of the nation’s most ubiquitous building materials. But even with its great durability in any weather, external conditions will always cause eventual cracks and issues, sometimes leading to a collapse.
"As one of the UK’s largest industries, creating smart materials for construction makes perfect sense"
And so, enter: self-healing concrete. Its aim is to both self-diagnose and restore damage, with no reliance on any kind of human intervention. Same look, same feel, and same characteristics, only with an added healing agent for longevity.
There are a few techniques currently being tested, although the processes of each are by and large the same. In fact, they’re pretty comparable to the way osteoblast cells in our body make and maintain our bones. Nature
So how do we recreate almost human-like cells in concrete?
We use nature to solve the problems nature can create for us.
"Hendrik Jonkers process,using bacteria, is now one of the main ways self-healing concrete is being brought to life"
When Hendrik Jonkers began looking into the process in 2006, he was researching it as more of a hypothetical possibility. His process, using bacteria, is now one of the main ways self-healing concrete is being brought to life. In this method, the bacteria remains completely dormant until activated by wet weather conditions, the exact conditions that potentially cause the issues in the first place.
A similar technique, by Binghamton University in New York, has also been showing positive results. Using Jonkers’ method, but instead they’ve been mixing in fungi as a healing agent. By having the fungal spores germinate, the cracks are filled – a process that can keep repeating as each new crack occurs.
We’re still a little while off from this smart material becoming a standard option. It’s an exciting prospect, and one that needs to be tested on a grander scale – for toughness, porousness, and most importantly in direct comparison to our conventional way of reinforcing concrete walls. On top of this, the scale of crack they’re able to fix is still relatively small, and we’re still not sure of the longevity of the healing agent itself, especially in these larger projects.
"We’re still a little while off from this smart material becoming a standard option"
These testing processes are fairly intricate and arduous; its purpose, on the other hand, is obvious. The UK alone is currently spending billions to preserve and restore infrastructure, and the industry is ready for new ideas.
By building greater longevity and sustainability in both existing and new infrastructure, the industry can allocate funds and resources into different areas. This makes the potential for construction innovation, become even greater.
The potential of this material can be huge for the greater good, too – creating cost-effectiveness on a long-term scale for developing countries. We’ll soon be able to see these results, as Jonkers’ bacteria technique has already been used on infrastructure projects in Ecuador.
"The potential of this material can be huge for the greater good, too –creating cost-effectiveness on a long-term scale for developing countries"
Here in the UK, though, the possibilities are amazing. For us at Bobtrade, we’re chatting self-healing concrete in everything from 3D nanostructures, to biocompatible body parts, all the way to spacecrafts.
It’s advances like this pushing our industry into a new era of innovation, and we’re excited to be a part of it.