Work being conducted by a team of engineers and scientists at the University of Michigan could one day yield building materials capable of repairing themselves. The substance is a form of concrete, and its makers predict that roads and buildings would be free of potentially dangerous stress fractures if it was widely implemented.
The group looked to nature to provide it with some inspiration, as some vertebrates are capable of repairing their hard shells over time. Using these natural processes as a guide, they eventually came upon a formula that, when exposed to air, would repair any cracks over time.
The healing power goes to work when cracks first appear in the concrete-like substance. The material absorbs moisture, which makes it soften and expand. At the same time, calcium ions inside the composite bond with the carbon monoxide in the air, creating a form of adhesive.
"This reaction forms a calcium carbonate material that is similar to the material found in seashells. This regrowth and solidifying of calcium carbonate renews the strength of the cracked concrete," the team explained in a statement that was published by The Biomimicry Institute, a nonprofit research advocacy group.
While this product is still in its testing phase, it's not hard to imagine its numerous applications. First and foremost, the nation's failing bridges and roadways could use a much-needed makeover, and the "bio-concrete" would be a welcome addition to that infrastructure. Similarly, urban buildings that have been standing for more than 75 years might benefit from overhauls that ensure that they'll be habitable for more years to come.
For now, the team is in the process of patenting their unique creation. Thankfully, it's highly likely that commercial building and bridge reconstruction contractors from around the country are eagerly awaiting the go-ahead to place their orders for this green product.