Scientists Have Created Concrete That Uses Bacteria to Heal Itself

When we think of concrete, it usually sounds like just about the least “living” thing in the world. And yet, in the illustrious year of 2020, “living concrete” is, in fact, a thing.

A new approach was developed by researchers who wanted to design more sustainable buildings and are using the help of some tiny contractors. A corresponding study was published last month, describing a strategy for using bacteria to develop building materials that live and multiply, while being good for a lower carbon footprint.

Yes, it is what it sounds like.

A Future with Living Buildings

Scientists Have Created Concrete That Uses Bacteria to Heal Itself

Biological materials such as wood are already used in construction, but those are no longer alive. The study is interested in keeping the construction materials biologically active and doing something beneficial. Although the research is not yet complete, the bacteria used in it is being kept alive longer and longer, and with a higher success rate. This shows that a future with living buildings may not be too far away. Such buildings will be able to heal their own cracks, glow on command, or even suck up dangerous toxins from the air.

An ECO-Friendly Alternative 

The building materials of today are quite costly and pollute the environment. The concrete and cement used for building roads, skyscrapers, bridges, and other structures are responsible for almost 6% of the annual carbon dioxide emissions around the world. But that number can be lowered drastically with the help of some bacteria. The experimented cyanobacteria are from the genus Synechococcus, and under the right conditions, these microbes absorb carbon dioxide to grow and make calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is the main ingredient in limestone and cement, which makes these bacteria ideal.

Concrete Manufacturing Has a Long Way to Go

Scientists Have Created Concrete That Uses Bacteria to Heal Itself

The manufacturing process will include inoculation of colonies of cyanobacteria into a sand and gelatin solution. With some tweaks, the calcium carbonate that will be created by the microbes will mineralize the gelatin and bind it together with the sand and bricks. Such bricks will remove carbon dioxide from the air and retain it in the structure of the building. It also turned out that that material could be made to reproduce and grow back damaged parts of each brick. Still, there is a lot of work that will have to be done before that happens.