Concreting the world began with the Egyptian pyramids 5,000 years ago. Then the Romans used concrete for their bridges, viaducts and aqueducts. Since that time, modern concrete has been used for some of the most stunning structures. Of course, no matter how well concrete is reinforced and preserved, it will eventually crack. But there may be a solution to this old-age problem. Microbiologist Hendrick Jonkers has created bioconcrete, a self-regenerative material.

Concrete

Concrete is the most widely-used material in the world. It’s used in everything from roads to building bridges, so it’s easy to see why scientists are racing to figure out how to produce stronger cement. Henk Jonkers’ new invention might just prove itself immune to cracking. Bioconcrete is an ingenious creation that could become the building material of the future. It’s infused with bacteria that enables the concrete to heal itself. When the concrete fractures, the bacteria fill the cracks up with limestone. This approach could provide lasting durability to structures. Concrete’s major flaw has always been a big problem for the construction industry, as repairs are expensive and time-consuming. While the concept might seem straightforward, developing this self-healing concrete was no easy task.

Professor Jonkers spent three years researching around different bacteria until he found one that could survive concrete’s environmental condition. Concrete is a very dry and stone-like material, so a specific type of bacterial strain was needed. Eventually, Jonkers and his team utilised Bacillus, a strain which thrives in alkaline conditions (such as concrete). It produces spores that enable the bacteria to handle the conditions.

Bioconcrete

While the bacteria would have been a massive breakthrough for Jonkers and his team, they still needed to provide it with a food source. After eliminating sugar as an option, due to the fact it could weaken the concrete, they decided to use calcium lactate. Both the bacteria and the calcium were placed into biodegradable capsules, that were mixed with the wet concrete. Whenever the concrete cracks, the water enters the capsules and splits them open. Then, the bacteria feed on the lactate and slowly form the limestone to close the cracks.

If successful, it could pave the way for a new era of biological buildings. There’s still a lot of challenges to overcome, including the filling of large cracks and maintaining overall strength. Also, the material’s high price tag could prove to be a hurdle in the widescale adoption of the material across the construction sector. Self-healing concrete is expected to cost double the amount of ordinary concrete, but the research team is trying to bring down the cost.

The material is a long way off from paving roads and spanning bridges, but bioconcrete has huge potential for a number of different applications. Bioconcrete is a great example of the benefit of applying both scientific innovations with the natural world. It will be a challenge to implement a wide adoption of the material, but the benefits of bioconcrete are clear. It would make an ideal material for the construction or any large-scale innovation.

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