Concrete is the second most frequently used human-made product. It is the second most used after water in the order of being the most utilized material around Earth. It is quite astonishing to know that 7.3 billion cubic meters of concrete is being every year, which accounts for 8 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Concrete that is more green can help reduce the environmental damage caused by our most popular building material, we’ll likely require greater amounts of the substance. In the final, our growing global population, expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050 will need new houses and efficient methods to maintain our structures and homes.
Self-healing concrete is element of the solutions to the issue. Engineers have developed forms of it that contain capsules that release the healing agents required to fix cracks after they break. Utilizing this incredible material can help to save many millions every year in maintenance costs, and could also minimize interruptions caused by repairs to tunnels, bridges, and other infrastructure constructed from concrete.
The problem with conventional reinforced concrete is in the fact that it gradually causes cracks that allow water and oxygen to penetrate the concrete’s steel that causes it to become corrosive. This can result in significant damage to the structure.
Hendrik Jonkers is an expert in Bio-adapted, sustainable building materials at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands He discovered an ingredient that lets concrete self-heal. It’s bacteria that are commonly found in stone. He could create self-healing bio concrete by adding bacteria spores which are similar to the seeds of bacteria in the concrete mix.
Cracks start to appear in the bio-concrete, oxygen and water get into the concrete and activate spores. The spores then grow in numbers. This results in a wide number of bacteria in this crack. The bacteria scattered throughout the crack begin to transform the nutrients within the spores into limestone, which is also called calcium carbonate, which will fill the crack. This process is basically what it sounds like the concrete with an action that is found naturally and is known as biomineralisation. It is an process that is usually responsible for the formation of plaque in your tooth.
“What makes these limestone-producing bacteria so special is that they are able to survive in concrete for more than 200 years and come into play when the concrete is damaged,” Professor Jonkers declares. Utilizing this building material will give buildings long-lasting endurance.
The technology, which was developed with patent-able technology by Delft University of Technology, is now commercially available. Basilisk Self-Healing Concrete sells an ingredient that can be used in the construction of new structures. Two additional items which can incorporate into existing structures to improve their durability.
Basilisk’s self-healing concrete is being used by a Dutch railway company, as well as to develop The Port of Rotterdam, while JP Concrete’s Sensicrete is the first self-healing concrete that will be available to UK which is why the business anticipates to see it being utilized in new structures and infrastructure across the UK in the near future.
The only restriction is the price. “Self-healing concrete isn’t something that is, at in the least, financially viable for regular construction. It’s typically found in mission-critical infrastructures where the advantages of longevity of the concrete exceed the initial costs,” says Martyn Dade-Robertson Professor of Emerging Technology as well as co-director of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at Newcastle University.
However, he believes that biotechnology will revolutionize building industry. He’s keen to make use of the capabilities of microorganisms to sense and respond to their environment and improve it by creating themselves into their structure.
“The concept behind our project, Thinking Soils, is that you have bacteria in soil that can detect mechanical pressure,” Dade-Robertson goes on to explain. This can trigger biomineralisation, which is the same process used in self-healing cement. “We could build an self-building foundation by applying the correct quantity of pressure onto the ground, eliminating the need for expensive excavations and concrete slabs reinforced. “
It’s not surprise that the procedure of creating this isn’t an easy task. His team has identified specific bacteria’s genes which are activated in response the pressure. “We want to engineer those responses,” Dade-Robertson adds. The team by using synthetic biology, has utilized genetic engineering to make bacteria that shine when pressure is applied.
It is the next stage creating an enzyme that will be responsible to perform the biomineralisation process. “It’s a very complicated enzyme to make, but what we’re trying to do is get an engineered system that will lead to the enzyme being created in response to the genetic ‘switch’ in bacteria being triggered by a load.” The researchers believe they are “very close” to managing this, but putting the elements together is challenging. They’re planning to conduct an experiment where they can load a substance and then make calcium carbonate crystals by making use of its ability to sense pressure to start biomineralisation. Dade-Robertson recognizes that the concept is far-fetched but says that it’s about creating an entirely new type of material.
The concept of growing tiny-scale deposits that connect particles to fill in gaps and cracks intriguing. However, can we develop these materials that can be used to construct ready to be built and are essentially the growing components of a house? Professor Dade-Robertson believes that this is not too far off.
A US company has already produced attractive “stone” with biomineralisation. A British company called Biohm is planning to produce blocks of insulation from mycelium which is the source of a fungal spore.
Biotech’s achievements are remarkable and the next step in the development of living materials that can be used in construction. For instance, biodegradable microbialcellulose materials could be cultivated to substitute for plastic, similar to the case for environmentally-friendly packaged food items. What would happen if you could change the ability of the material to degrade itself and on according to Dade-Robertson it was possible that it could be used for the creation of eco-friendly structures. For instance, if somebody had destroyed a structure constructed of cellulose, the biodegradable switch could be turned on which would cause the building to disappear.
The development of substances with characteristics similar to living organisms is an improvement. As an example, instead of drying mycelium for insulation bricks, the roots can be kept. “It could grow thicker in the winter to keep you warm,” Dade-Robertson thinks.
In reality, Nasa is interested in whether mycelium is an appropriate material to build the structures that are found in Mars. “As mycelia normally excrete enzymes, it should be possible to bioengineer them to secrete other materials on demand, such as bioplastics or latex to form a biocomposite,” says Lynn Rothschild at Nasa Ames Research Centre. “A mycotectural building envelope could drastically reduce the energy needed for building due to the fact that it is surrounded by food and water, it will grow. “
A group of researchers from MIT has developed materials made of spores of bacteria and latex that change their shape upon exposure in water. Although their main concentration was on clothing, the team of Dade-Robertson is studying whether this method could be utilized to create membranes to create sweat when humidity in the indoors increases that would eliminate the need for mechanical air conditioning devices. “Using latex membranes coated with bacteria spores the material will flex and open pores – like sweat glands – allowing air to flow through the walls,” the researcher claims.
Additionally other researchers are working on live building material. Wil Srubar is a professor of architectural and materials engineering sciences at The University of Colorado Boulder and has utilized photosynthetic cyanobacteria, the microorganisms living in green in the walls of aquariums of fish to help in the development in the material, which could be kept in a healthy condition.
The Cyanobacteria use carbon dioxide and sunlight to grow, and they produce bio-cement, which Srubar’s team used to join the sand particles and create bricks.
“By maintaining the cyanobacteria active we were able to produce building materials at a rapid rate. We used a living brick, cut it in half , and then made two bricks full of clay out of the halves” the researcher explains. The method could be very useful in the construction industry and could also be a way to save energy.
The manufacturing, transportation and assembly of the building materials contributes to 11 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide. Living building materials, such as bricks made from cyanobacteria could absorb CO2.
A home that is able to be extended might be possible very soon. “Imagine you’ve got a building that starts growing bricks for an extension as your family grows, so your house grows with you,” Dade-Robertson elaborates. Although he acknowledges that this is “far-reaching stuff”, there are some fundamental research underway which could lead us in this point, and thus creating science fiction the ideas that we’re imagining in the near future.
If he’s correct, our homes that are environmentally friendly will not be like the futuristic glass towers from ‘Minority Report’ or the extravagant homes in the film ‘BladeRunner’. Instead, they’ll draw inspiration from the natural world. Self-healing mushrooms and cement are amazing, yet we’ve barely begun to explore the possibilities for bioengineered building materials. Organisms could bring life-like capabilities to building blocks such as responding to temperature or pressure in addition to self-healing and the ability to illuminate. Professor Srubar claims: “If nature can do it, living things can be designed to do ittoo. “