It’s been used in construction since the Roman times, but concrete has never been more popular than it is today.
It is the most widely produced and used material on earth, apart from water.
A mixture of aggregates, water and cement, concrete is incredibly useful and widely applicable. Thanks to its durability, easily-sourced raw materials and thermal resistance, it is unlikely that an alternative building material will replace it any time soon.
A common choice for large-scale structures, it is used to create our buildings, pave our roads, toughen our tunnels and span our bridges. But despite its popularity, as a construction material concrete is not without its problems.
At some point, no matter how it is mixed or reinforced, concrete will crack and deteriorate. Under some conditions, those cracks can lead to collapse.
Every year billions of pounds are spent maintaining, fixing and restoring concrete structures - £40 billion in the UK alone. Now those exorbitant bills could soon be a thing of the past with a new generation of construction materials using fungi as a secret weapon.
At the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Professor Henk Jonkers has designed a new type of self-healing concrete that can fix its own cracks using bacteria.
The self-repairing concrete is mixed just like regular concrete, but with an extra ingredient -the "healing agent." It remains intact during mixing, only dissolving and becoming active if the concrete cracks and water gets in.
Jonkers, a microbiologist, began working on the problem in 2006 when he was approached by a concrete technologist. He now hopes his concrete could be the start of a new age of biological buildings.
Closer to home, the search for a cost-effective cure for what is commonly referred to as ‘concrete cancer’ continues.
Researchers at the Universities of Cardiff, Cambridge, Bath and Northumbria are all looking to produce a self-fixing concrete that can repair its own cracks using embedded self-activating bacteria.
At Northumbria, Dr Alan Richardson, a Senior Lecturer in Construction in the School of the Built and Natural Environment, is using a ground-borne bacteria to create calcite, a crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate. This can then be used to block the concrete’s pores, keeping out water and other damaging substances to prolong the life of the concrete.
The bacteria is grown on a nutrient broth of yeast, minerals and urea and is then added to the concrete. With its food source in the concrete, the bacteria breeds and spreads, acting as a filler to seal the cracks and prevent further deterioration.
Looking to the future, scientists are hoping this green technology could lead to buildings that technically look after themselves.
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During times of change, it’s reassuring to know that support is there in whatever form you need it. If you’d like to know more about how we can help, get in touch today.