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

  1. 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
  2. EU-US FOE is generously sponsored by Autonomy Autonomy Corporation plc, the global leader in infrastructure software for enterprise, which spearheads the Meaning Based Computing movement. IDC recently recognized Autonomy as having the largest market share and fastest growth in the worldwide search and discovery market. Autonomy's technology allows computers to harness the full richness of human information, forming a conceptual and contextual understanding of any piece of electronic data, including unstructured information, such as text, email, web pages, voice, or video. Autonomy's software powers the full spectrum of mission-critical enterprise applications including pan-enterprise search, customer interaction solutions, information governance, end-to-end eDiscovery, records management, archiving, business process management, web content management, web optimization, rich media management and video and audio analysis  www.autonomy.com
  3. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636; email:  Jane Sutton