“Magic” Self-Healing Concrete

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Robison Wells
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Arthur C. Clarke, the author of science fiction such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and inventor of ideas such as the geostationary communications satellite, once wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Maybe that’s the reason that one technology, developed in Denmark, is making news as “magic.”

Hendrick “Henk” Marius Jonkers has delved deep into science fiction to come up with bio-concrete: a bionic, eco-friendly concrete that magically heals itself. The concrete, which won the European Inventor Award, has dormant bacteria that wake up when the concrete cracks and build limestone to fill the gap. The surviving limestone is estimated to be structurally sound for 200 years. In Europe, where 70% of all construction is cement, this aims to change the industry.

“Hendrik Jonker’s bacterial concrete extends the life of bridges, streets, and tunnels and opens up completely new perspectives for concrete production,” said European Patent Office President Benoit Battistelli. “This forward-looking innovation is a successful combination of microbiology and civil engineering—two sciences that are unlikely collaborators at first glance.”

As an expert in bacterial behavior, Jonker’s worked with marine microbiology, studying how plants and octopi regenerate lost limbs. Taking a position as faculty of Civil Engineering at Delft University of Technology, where he turned to concrete as his medium.

His invention was set to begin to be used in 2016, to reduce maintenance expenses, by EUR 4-6 billion. Though more expensive to begin with (EUR 85-100 per cubic meter, compared to EUR 80 for standard concrete), the new concrete is expected to more than pay for itself in maintenance costs.

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