Fungi’s Role in the Development of Self-Healing Concrete

By Marcia-Ruth Ndege ‘21

Trichoderma.reesei.jpg

Figure 1. T. reesei is used in industrial processes due to its ability to secrete large amounts of cellulases.

While concrete is the world’s most frequently used construction material, it is known to deteriorate quickly under the stress of daily physical and chemical processes. Concrete shrinks in the summer and cracks during the winter, and these cracks allow water to seep into underground steel reinforcement bars, resulting in corrosion. Professor Congrui Jin, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton University, has come up with an innovative solution to this phenomenon: a heterogenous mixture of fungi and concrete.

Professor Jin drew inspiration for this project from the human body’s innate ability to heal itself. A few of his colleagues from Binghamton University and Rutgers University collaborated on the task of finding a fungus that would be able to survive the harsh conditions that are present within concrete structures. After screening 20 different fungi, they settled on Trichoderma reesei, which was the only species to survive the drastic change from a neutral to an extremely alkaline pH of 13.0.  

The implementation of this idea would involve the addition of fungal spores during the initial concrete mixing process. When the concrete cracks and water seeps through, the T. reesei will germinate and work as a catalyst to promote the precipitation of carbon calcium crystals that will fill the cracks. This species of fungi is eco-friendly and nonpathogenic; nonetheless, further research must take place to gauge any potential long-term effects before this plan can be implemented.

References:

  1. C. Jin, Fungi can help concrete heal its own cracks. Scientific American, (2018).
  2. Image retrieved from: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichoderma_reesei
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