As infrastructure ages and deteriorates over time, the development of
self-healing concrete could provide a more sustainable solution by reducing
the need for repairs and maintenance. Researchers at Drexel University’s
College of Engineering have developed an innovative self-healing concrete
technology called BioFiber. The novel BioFibers enable concrete to
autonomously heal cracks and damage using bacterial spores that precipitate
calcium carbonate to seal fractures.
The technology was developed through a collaboration between the
departments of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (CAEE),
Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics, and Material Science and Engineering,
led by PhD candidate Mohammad Houshmand, who was introduced to the project
while working with Amir Farnam, PhD, associate professor of CAEE, in the
Advanced Infrastructure Materials (AIM) Lab.
“Two years into my doctoral journey, Professor Farnam and I explored the
collaborative potential of my involvement in the BioFiber project, which
eventually became the focal point of my PhD dissertation,” Houshmand
explained. “Subsequently, I assumed the lead role as the PhD student
spearheading the development of BioFiber technology.”
The novel BioFibers provide concrete with three key capabilities:
self-healing, crack growth control, and damage-responsiveness. They are
made of a core fiber surrounded by a hydrogel sheath containing dormant
bacterial spores, all encased in a polymeric outer shell. When a crack
forms in the concrete and ruptures the BioFiber, water penetrates and causes
the hydrogel to swell and the bacteria to produce calcium carbonate, which
seals the crack, healing the damage in the concrete.
Houshmand says that the team leveraged strategies from multiple disciplines
to optimize the BioFibers, a practice that Houshmand says enriched his
experience as a PhD student.
"Navigating the interplay between material science, microbiology and
manufacturing processes ensured that the technology would be successful,"
he stated. “Collaborating with faculty researchers and peers has
significantly contributed to my growth as a researcher. Engaging with
experienced faculty members provided valuable mentorship and refined my
research approach, while collaborating with fellow students fostered an
environment for idea exchange and enhanced problem-solving skills.”
One of the highlights of the BioFiber technology, according to Houshmand,
is its potential to enhance sustainability in infrastructure and
construction. The self-healing functionality provided by the bacterial
spores can extend the service life of concrete structures and reduce the
need for repairs and maintenance. This in turn lowers material demands,
transport emissions, and waste. BioFibers align with Houshmand's passion
for developing eco-friendly construction advances.
"The prospect of contributing to the development of resilient, eco-friendly
infrastructure, capable of prolonged functionality and reduced maintenance,
inspires my dedication to this innovative field," he added.
Upon completing his PhD, Houshmand aims to leverage the knowledge and
experience gained in the development of BioFiber to establish a startup to
bring the technology to market.
“I am passionate about commercializing this groundbreaking technology to
revolutionize the construction industry and contribute to sustainable
infrastructure development on a larger scale,” he said. “By founding a
company dedicated to the production and implementation of BioFiber, I
aspire to drive widespread adoption and create a positive impact on the
global construction landscape, ultimately contributing to a more sustainable
and resilient built environment.”