An exciting future awaits the structural engineering profession with some interesting new trends making headlines. Technologies such as self-healing concrete is an intriguing prospect, however will it prove to be viable for mainstream use?

Innovation will always form part of structural engineering’s core characteristics, but there is a clear difference in the doubling speed of computing technology as better described by Moore’s law versus the doubling speed of structural engineering innovation.  While computing technology innovation doubling is measured in months, the rate of structural engineering innovation doubling is still measured in years if not decades.  Despite this, the impact associated with structural engineering innovation is usually tremendous in terms of the social and economic benefit.

An intriguing and relatively new concept in structural engineering is self-healing concrete.  Self-healing concrete merges biology and material science to form a hybrid material capable of mending itself and thus utilizing positive characteristics of different materials as a combination.  This technology was developed at Delft Technical University in the Netherlands, with the material having a unique capability to self-heal its own cracks by up to 0.5mm.  The concrete mix contains bacteria that produces limestone when exposed to water.  The limestone then fills in any fissures that may be present in the concrete.  It furthermore contains granules of bacterial spores and calcium lactate which is the nutrient the bacteria need to survive.  The spores then lie dormant until they are activated by water that enters the cracks in the concrete.

Technologies such as these no doubt bodes well for interesting times ahead, and one can hope that mainstream utilization of self-healing concrete as a structural material can soon be realized in a practical manner. It will probably not disrupt the industry, but can surely complement the status quo in a very unique fashion.

Science meets biology