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Bacteria in concrete: how biomimicry is inspiring sustainable construction

13.05.2015

Faced with the dual challenge of a continuously growing population and pressure on available resources, local authorities are looking for ways to enhance the ecological sustainability of buildings by improving energy efficiency, minimizing the materials used, and more… A revolutionary cement developed by a Dutch researcher is set to help lengthen the service life of buildings.

The building (construction and demolition) industry is one of the heaviest users of resources: 25% of the total waste produced in Europe comes from construction and demolition, according to Eurostat. As 70% of buildings are made of cement, it is a key focus area for researchers and innovators looking to make homes more sustainable.

Hendrik Jonkers, a Dutch microbiologist and finalist in the European Patent Office’s 2015 European Inventors Award, was inspired by the ability of octopuses to regrow lost tentacles, to develop a new cement that could self-repair cracks in a cement structure. To do this, Mark Jonkers included, in the cement, natural bacteria (bacillus pseudofirmus and B. cohnii) capable of producing limestone. Normally dormant, they “wake up” as soon as they come in contact with water and flow into the crack. The limestone creation process then fills in all cracks. Another benefit of this innovation is that the bacteria consume oxygen, thus minimizing internal corrosion in the cement.

For the construction industry, this new material has an essential additional property: its durability. Bacteria can remain dormant for 200 years, which is a real benefit for major civil engineering projects that are difficult to access. This cement, which combines expertise in construction and marine biology, could allow the heavy construction and civil engineering industry to significantly reduce the maintenance costs of bridges, tunnels, and more…

In addition to offering lower resource consumption, this innovation is proof of the many biomimicry-based approaches available to tackle the challenge of smarter resource use.