Did you know that concrete is the second-most consumed material on Earth, requiring virgin sand and contributing to CO2 emissions? The only material that is more consumed is water.
Now, scientists at the University of Boulder have developed a live concrete that is like a living organism and can repair itself when cracked. The cement is alive with photosynthetic bacteria called Synechococcus which is grown with ordinary supermarket gelatin to speed up the growth rate.
Researchers compared the process to making Jell-O and rice crispy treats.
“It really does look like a Frankenstein material,” project leader Will Srubar told theNew York Times.
Innovative! Scientists have used bacteria to develop new sustainable, ‘live’ concrete, which could be used to build structures that could, one day, heal their own cracks, suck up dangerous toxins from the air etc. #sustainability https://t.co/OijRkZzdgR
— Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (@kiranshaw) January 20, 2020
Concrete expert Andrea Hamilton called it a “new and exciting class of low-carbon, designer construction materials.”
The new cement has a greenish color but fades to brown as it ages. So far, the bacteria can remain alive inside the concrete for around 30 days if the environment is humid. The researchers hope to improve the mixture so that it can stay alive for longer without adding gelatin.
As if reproducing, bricks can self-replicate. The bacteria from one brick can grow many more using additional sand, gelatin, nutrients, and warm water reported Smithsonian.
A team of researchers has created a new kind of concrete that is alive and can even reproduce. "It really does look like a Frankenstein material,” one researcher said. https://t.co/8fkEL72xFl
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 16, 2020
Unlike traditional concrete, the living mixture doesn’t require pristine sand, which is more and more in demand around the world. Instead, you can use recycled materials, making it a viable option in hard-to-reach locations.
Wil Srubar, a structural engineer who headed the research project told the Times:
“Out in the desert, you don’t want to have to truck in lots of materials,” Dr. Srubar said. “But as long as there are still living bacteria in one brick, it can bind a variety of materials together. We’re not pigeonholed into using some particular kind of sand. We could use waste materials like ground glass or recycled concrete.”
The live concrete may also be an option for construction in faraway places – like Mars. Picture green living structures on the Red Planet.
“There’s no way we’re going to carry building materials to space,” Dr. Srubar said. “We’ll bring biology with us.”
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Featured image: Image via Pixabay