Concrete of the Future Will Self-Heal

November 4, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

A crack in a concrete wall
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With new technologies, potholes and pavement cracks may be able to fix themselves without human intervention.

Shape-shifting concrete is the future. With all of the money and time that’s poured into maintaining infrastructures in developed nations, it’s safe to say it was time for a new technology to emerge. Trials to determine whether self-healing concrete is a feasible option are already underway in Wales, and if all goes as planned, cities of the future might be able to repair themselves autonomously.

The researchers, led by scientists at Cardiff University, hope to develop a system that could be embedded in the concrete when it’s first set, which would allow the structure to automatically sense when damage occurs. To test everything out, the researchers will crack and break down six concrete walls, leaving the self-repairing concrete to do its job.

SEE ALSO: Disaster-Ready Concrete Absorbs 880 Gallons of Water Per Minute

The scientists plan to test out three different self-healing technology approaches to get a better understanding of the best possible way to employ the technology in the future. The first technique involves special materials, called shape-memory polymers, which are able to transform their shape to return to a memorized form when heated.

In the second method, the scientists will pump organic and inorganic healing agents through a network of thin tunnels in the concrete.

Lastly, the third technique uses tiny capsules containing bacteria and healing agents. The capsules produce calcium carbonate, so once they’re embedded inside the concrete, the researchers expect them to close up any cracks.

"Our vision is to create sustainable and resilient systems that continually monitor, regulate, adapt and repair themselves without the need for human intervention,” said Professor Bob Lark, the principal investigator on the project from Cardiff University's School of Engineering, according to "These self-healing materials and intelligent structures will significantly enhance durability, improve safety and reduce the extremely high maintenance costs that are spent each year.”

Lark says this major trial will provide the team with important insights needed to shift the self-healing concrete technologies from lab settings to the real world. The exciting endeavor could significantly reduce the amount of time and money spent on infrastructure maintenance, and those resources could instead be used for other pressing projects. Plus, it would be pretty cool to watch a pothole fill itself up.

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