Fungus-powered, self-healing concrete could eliminate cracks in existing roads, bridges

Updated Apr 27, 2018

cracked concrete

Binghamton University researchers are working on perfecting a fungus that will heal the cracks that naturally form in concrete, reports. To make the self-healing concrete, fungal spores and a nutrient-based medium would be added to the concrete during the mixing process or sprayed onto concrete structures already built. The fungus would naturally secrete minerals to fill in the cracks without human intervention or monitoring, saving time and money, and preventing engineers from having to risk their lives searching for cracks on bridges, roads, and skyscrapers.

“Rain and moisture will find their way into the cracks in the concrete, which will cause the fungus to germinate, and as they germinate, they will form and create mineral deposits that will fill the crack, which would be able to repeat the process over time,” said Congrui Jin, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton University who has been working on the self-healing concrete for five years, according to the news agency. “Scientists in Europe have been working on making self-healing concrete using bacteria, but we are the first to use fungi for a self-healing capacity. By using fungi, we are hoping that it lasts longer and would have the ability to heal larger cracks when compared to bacteria-based counterparts.”

Jin said concrete treated with the fungi would probably be more expensive than regular concrete, but that the investment would be worth it. “Concrete that doesn’t self-heal requires enormous labor and investment in time and money,” Jin told the news agency. “It can also be very hard to find damage in difficult places like tunnels underwater, and in those cases detection and repairs are very costly. So while it would be more expensive, self-healing concrete will save a lot of money. Survivability of the fungi, that it remains alive but dormant once mixed in with the concrete until a crack forms and it gets oxygen and water, is very important.”

Fungi is uniquely equipped to survive in many natural environments, but the Trichoderma reesei, as this particular fungi is called, needs to feel right at home in the most extreme man-made environments on earth with no light, water, or oxygen, while under extreme pressure, to be applicable on a large scale.

Jin said she expects she and her research partners — Binghamton University professor Guangwen Zhou and associate professor David Davies, and Rutgers University associate professor Ning Zhang — will need another three years to have a product ready for the concrete market. “I am confident that we can get it done,” she told the news agency. “Binghamton University was very helpful as we worked to obtain initial funding from the SUNY Research Foundation, which then let us expand our research and get more funding from external sources.”

The research has been published in Construction and Building Materials under the title “Interactions of Fungi with Concrete; Significant importance for bio-based self-healing concrete.”