An engineer speaking at an international symposium in Cambridge today has invented a biological concrete that can repair its own cracks.
Dr Henk Jonkers is in Cambridge to attend the first ever EU-US Frontiers of Engineering symposium - a gathering of the best engineers under the age of 40 from both sides of the Atlantic. The event is being organised by the US National Academy of Engineering and the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of EuroCASE, the umbrella organisation of European Engineering Academies.
Dr Jonkers, of Delft University of Technology, produced the self-healing concrete using a special strain of mineral-eating bacteria. Found in soda lake communities like Wadi Natrun in Egypt, these are spore-forming bacteria tolerant of very alkaline environments.
Millions of dormant bacteria are incorporated in the aggregate during production along with packets of chemical ‘feed’. If the concrete is cracked and oxygen and water are introduced, the bacteria are activated. They go to work converting their ‘feed’ into calcite, which seals the crack. The bacteria then revert to a dormant state, leaving the concrete just as strong and impermeable as it was before.
“The new concrete would be perfect for structures which are difficult to maintain, like underground buildings, motorways or oil rigs,” says Dr Jonkers. “It is extremely durable. The bacteria are specially adapted to extremely alkaline environments, and can survive dormant inside the concrete for up to 50 years.”
Other technologies being unveiled at the event include inhalable coffee, new ways to enhance reality using cell phones, and self-assembling nano-medicines.
“We know that younger engineers are doing fantastic work in companies and universities,” says Professor Richard Williams OBE FREng, who is co-chairing the event. “But they don’t have many opportunities to get together outside their individual sectors. An event like this gets the best young engineers talking to each other about cutting edge developments in areas where disciplines intersect. That’s where the really exciting innovations will emerge.”
For more details of Dr Jonkers’ bioconcrete research, see www.naefrontiers.org/Symposia/EU-USFOE/22791/2010EU-USFOE/2010-EU-US-program/22881/22914.aspx
Notes for editors
The EU-US Frontiers of Engineering symposium (1-3 September) aims to bring together outstanding, early-careerEuropean and American engineers from industry, universities, and other research institutions to introduce their areas of engineering research and technical work, thereby facilitating an interdisciplinary transfer of knowledge and methodology that could eventually lead to collaborative networks of engineers. Approximately 60 people will take part altogether including organizers and speakers, with 30 engineers from the EU and 30 from the US. Participation is by invitation only. For the full programme see www.naefrontiers.org/Symposia/EU-USFOE.aspx
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