Bio-Concrete: An Auto-Healing Building Material

Date: Apr 26, 2016 9:30:00 AM

 I recently had lunch with my friend and scientist, Valentina Greco, who studies how human skin develops and how cells multiply to regenerate tissue when needed. I found her research completely amazing.

Coming back home I started to think about biomimicry, an innovative approach that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. “Biomimicry lovers” (in which I include myself) imagine ways of emulating living organisms and the ways they function. As in my ARE PPP Kaplan exam book dictated: “To learn from nature, therefore, one must understand the principles underlying natural form and their evolution, transposing those processes into our own. We should not imitate form, but rather emulate process” (1). I decided to do some research on the subject to see how it may relate to design and architecture.

The Future of Concrete 

During my research, I found the work of Dr. Henk Jonkers, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who has been studying auto-healing concrete since 2006.

Dr. Jonkers’ bio-concrete uses regular concrete and introduces a bacillus bacteria, which has the ability to survive for decades without food or oxygen. He placed the bacteria and calcium lactate (the bacteria food source) into capsules made from biodegradable plastic, and then added the capsules to the wet concrete mix. When concrete cracks and water enters into the mixture, it opens the capsules and the bacteria germinate. The bacteria multiply and feed on the lactate, which then closes the cracks (“as our human skin cells do in our bodies”). This creates a self-healing capacity that could lead to substantial savings and a more economical way to designing concrete structures.

Using Bio-Concrete for Sustainable Design 

Dr. Jonkers’ research on self-healing concrete could be the beginning of a new era for sustainable design and construction. Could we combine nature with our dated construction materials? Could our buildings, or any part of them, regenerate themselves to auto-repair their cracks, and with them water penetration, and all of the problems this may cause?

Going even further, would it be possible to have more resilient buildings that adjust themselves and change their positions in case of exterior movement as do living organisms? Could they move to take advantage of the sun? Could we start creating the era of sustainable design bio-buildings? We would love to hear about your ideas!


You can find more information about the subject in the links below:


(1) ARE Kaplan 2011 Study Guide, Programming, Planning and Practice, Paul Speiregen & Lester Werthneimer

Featured image credit: Photograph: the living concrete that can heal itself article by Andrew Stewart, for CNN


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