Self-healing concrete no longer a pipe dream

A team from Purdue University in Indiana, United States has developed “smart concrete” to reduce repair works on roads while implementing condition monitoring.

Purdue civil engineering professor Luna Lu and her students assessed important questions of when and why concrete is most susceptible to damage.

“Traffic jams caused by infrastructure repairs have wasted four billion hours and three billion gallons of gas on a yearly basis,” Lu said.

“This is primarily due to insufficient knowledge and understanding of our infrastructure’s condition.”

When maintenance is required on major roads, a quick turnaround is required to avoid major traffic jams in some of the world’s busiest thoroughfares.

“For instance, we don’t know when concrete will reach the right strength needed for opening up major roads to traffic after construction,” Lu said.

“In many states, major interstates need to reopen in a 12-hour window, which only leaves three to four hours for concrete to cure. The concrete may go through premature failure, leading to frequent repairing.”

To alleviate these issues, Lu’s smart concrete uses wireless sensors to constantly track concrete strength, and these have already been used in highways across Indiana.

Further to these futuristic roadways, Lu’s team is working on a concrete which mixes nano-silica materials into the mixture to seal its own cracks while regaining strength.

This scar-like process also reduces the amount of water which can penetrate the concrete and damage steel or rebar reinforcement.

The team at Purdue are continuing to work on a range of materials to ensure concrete isn’t the only kind of construction material with superpowers.

“Like with concrete, we can understand the conditions of strength for materials such as asphalt and soil, and use that information to determine traffic opening time,” Lu said.

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