“Bend Me, Shape Me” Concrete: Bends and Heals its Own Cracks

May 6, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Scientists from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor recently announced an amazing new discovery that is being hailed in scientific circles. No, it isn’t a cure for cancer or even the common cold, but the remarkable discovery will do its part in saving lives.

What is it? It’s a new form of a concrete composite that not only bends and twists when exposed to earthquakes and other damaging forces, it also heals itself, automatically repairing cracks with simple rainwater.

This next-generation of concrete can make our roads, bridges and buildings safer, as well as save money, as the new material won’t need as much maintenance as standard concrete structures. Researcher Victor Li, has devoted 15 years of his professional life, to develop a safer and stronger concrete composite that would withstand damage from earthquakes and the constant wear and tear that roads and bridges are exposed to.

Together with visiting scholar Yingzi Yang, Li finally developed a new type of concrete that not only is capable of bending into a U shape without crumbling in pieces, it also heals itself. The process sounds simple on paper, but it’s the product of years of scientific research.

The new concrete composite develops hairline cracks, allowing it to expand. The cracks expose a dry powdery material that mixes with rainwater, and the carbon dioxide in the air to form heavy-duty glue that repairs the cracks.

The repaired concrete is actually stronger than the original material, forming a virtually unbreakable seal of calcium carbonate, a compound found in seashells.

Similar material has been used in a buildings and bridges, but did not offer the bendable and quiet self-healing properties as Li’s invention. A Michigan bridge used “toothed” metal slats, allowing standard concrete to expand, but it didn’t have the capability of bending into a U shape, and it was also very noisy.

Using the new bendable concrete on bridges would expand, bend and self-repair cracks, as people traverse the bridge spans, blissfully unaware of all the quiet activity that is taking place deep inside the futuristic concrete.

Although the new bendable concrete costs significantly more than standard concrete, builders and communities should save money in the long run with reduced maintenance costs.

The new concrete should be appearing on a bridge near you very soon and I have to wonder if the bridge builders will hum the 1960s hit song, “Bend Me, Shake Me,” as they construct a bendable bridge for the future.

This groundbreaking University of Michigan study is available in the Journal of Cement and Concrete.

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