Self-healing concrete, a subject we touched on back in January, is an innovation which has moved from strength to strength during 2015 following its development within three British universities; Cardiff, Bath and Cambridge. Using bacteria to plug cracks and crevices, this material is now being trialed in Wales in advance of its introduction into the construction industry as a viable product.

Trials are due to start at Costain; one of the industrial partners of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded ‘Materials 4 Life’ research projects. In order to test the material, a contractor at the Heads of the Valleys highways project is creating a trial structure in order to give the research team an opportunity to monitor its performance in a real site-based environment.


Costain’s civil engineer Oliver Teall spoke of their testing plans, explaining that they plan to build “a full-scale wall structure with a number of concrete panels” and that into each panel will be a number of different combinations of self-healing techniques. These techniques “will be loaded to artificially damage them, and then monitored to see how they react over time”.

The tests began at the end of September, and are due to run for a minimum of six months. Through this trialling of the material, the plan is to gain a real insight into how it functions, enabling construction companies to work out whether the construction of full-scale structures using it would be feasible.

The healing function of this material will be tested to gage its effect on areas including stiffness, permeability and the mechanical damage recovery of the panels used within the trials. By looking at these areas, a better insight can be gained into this material’s application in everyday engineering and construction.

Importance of the research

During its realisation stage, this material held enough of a stance within the industry to create a serious buzz around it, and indeed it is clear for all to see thanks to the high profile identity of some of its backers – including Highways England and the Welsh Government – that this material is an important addition to modern construction methods.

Costain are the only major research group within the UK to be investigating the performance of the material, an aspect that is crucial to the product’s future application within projects not only in the UK but around the globe. Construction companies and engineers across the country will spend the next few months awaiting the results of the ongoing trials, and until then the material undoubtedly remains to be extremely impressive in its creation alone.

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