Science 3 min read

Scientists Create Living Concrete that Can Reproduce

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Kletr /

A team of scientists has managed to create living concrete that can also reproduce.

The process of making concrete has relatively remained unchanged over centuries. It involves builders mixing hard materials like sand with various binders and hoping that it stays rigid for as long as possible.

But concretes crack and break. So, it’s not surprising that studies have been looking to make the material self-healing.

While previous efforts entail adding microbes to the building material, a team of researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, took it a step further. They created a different type of concrete that’s not only alive, but it can also reproduce.

Cyanobacteria in the material capture energy through photosynthesis. Unlike the regular concrete production process which spews greenhouse gases, the new photosynthetic process absorbs CO2.

Also, the photosynthetic microbe gives the material an unusual green color, which fades as the concrete dries.

According to a concrete expert at the University of Strathclyde, in Scotland, Andrea Hamilton:

“[The new concrete] represents a new and exciting class of low-carbon, designer construction materials.”

The researchers described how they developed the living building material in their published paper in the journal Matter,

Creating a Living Concrete that Can Reproduce

At first, the Colorado team placed cyanobacteria in a mixture of sand, nutrient, and warm water. That way, when the microbes absorbed light, it produced calcium carbonate, which cemented the sand particles.

Unfortunately, the process was too slow. So, the head of the research project, Wil Srubar, suggested adding gelatin to strengthen the matrix.

The team visited a local store to purchase Knox brand gelatin, which they dissolved in the solution with the bacteria. They poured the mixture into the molds and refrigerated it.

Lead author of the study, Chelsea Hevera explained:

“We took it out of the mold and held it — it was a beautiful, bright green and said ‘Darpa’ on the side.” [The mold featured the name of the project’s funder.]

The gelatin gave the material more structure. What’s more, it worked with the microbes to make the living concrete grow faster and stronger.  While the living concrete is not as strong as its conventional counterparts, it shows the potential for doing real construction.

For example, the Department of Defense wants to use the reproductive ability of the materials in remote or austere areas like a desert. Also, living concretes might help in harsher environments on other planets like Mars.

There’s no way we’re going to carry building materials to space,” Dr. Srubar said. “We’ll bring biology with us.

The team, however, admitted that further study is necessary to make the material more practical.

Read More: Researchers Create New Strains of Bacteria To Find Landmines

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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