According to a recent report by The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, concrete is the 2nd most commonly used material in the world and, by 2030, global cement output will hit 5bn metric tons per year. Given its environmental impacts and carbon emission levels, a big opportunity exists for greener alternatives to be commercially adopted.
Merging the fields of engineering and marine biology, bioconcrete is the brainchild of microbiologist, Hendrik Jonkers. This eco-friendly concrete uses limestone producing bacteria, giving it the ability to self-heal and repair cracks without the need for manual repairs which are currently a significant maintenance cost for any home or building owner.
“One of my colleagues, a civil engineer with no knowledge of microbiology, read about applying limestone-producing bacteria to monuments [to preserve them],” Jonkers said. “He asked me: ‘Is it possible for buildings?’ Then my task was to find the right bacteria that could not only survive being mixed into concrete, but also actively start a self healing process.”
Bioconcrete works by embedding limestone producing bacteria into the concrete. The bacteria can lie dormant in the concrete for up to 200 years after construction. When cracks emerge, water will activate the bacteria inside. The bacteria then start producing limestone to fill in the cracks naturally.
This short video explains the process in more detail.
The most obvious benefit of bioconcrete is cost reduction. Repairing cracks in concrete is currently an expensive undertaking, with maintenance costs for bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure in the EU reaching €6bn annually. With bioconcrete, this expense can largely be reduced or eliminated entirely. Whilst the invention is still in its early stages of development and thus not yet ready for large scale infrastructure projects, it certainly has application in smaller scale projects.
In addition to cost reduction, the environmental benefits of moving away from traditional concrete can’t be overlooked. On a global scale, governments and regulators are ramping up initiatives to curb the impact construction output has on the planet, and may very well incentivise construction companies to use greener materiasl like bioconcrete.
There are three products in the bioconcrete repertoire: a spray that can be applied to small cracks; a mortar for repairing large cracks or structural damage; and the self-healing concrete itself.
There is no doubt the construction industry is on the cusp of a technology and innovation shake-up. Alternative materials that promise cost reduction, environmental friendliness and other functional benefits are on the rise and this is great news for the industry and the planet. whether or not Bioconcrete gathers mainstream adoption remains to be seen but if the material can deliver on it’s mission, it will fill some long overdue cracks in the industry.