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When you break your leg, it eventually knits itself back together. Osteoblast cells produce minerals that create the structure of new bone, turning fragments back into a whole.
Why, thought microbiologist Henk Jonkers, can’t buildings do the same thing?
Inspired by the human body, Jonkers, who works at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, created self-healing concrete. He embeds the concrete with capsules of limestone-producing bacteria, either Bacillus pseudofirmus or Sporosarcina pasteurii, along with calcium lactate. When the concrete cracks, air and moisture trigger the bacteria to begin munching on the calcium lactate. They convert the calcium lactate to calcite, an ingredient in limestone, thus sealing off the cracks.
This innovation could solve a longstanding problem with concrete, the world’s most common construction material. Concrete often develops micro-cracks during the construction process, explains Jonkers. These tiny cracks don’t immediately affect the building’s structural integrity, but they can lead to leakage problems. Leakage can eventually corrode the concrete’s steel reinforcements, which can ultimately cause a collapse. With the self-healing technology, cracks can be sealed immediately, staving off future leakage and pricey damage down the road. The bacteria can lie dormant for as long as 200 years, well beyond the lifespan of most modern buildings. […]