Cambridge research into self-healing concrete and other intelligent infrastructure materials has featured on BBC World News, BBC Breakfast and BBC Look East as part of a special programme.
Self-healing systems are very important because we spend a huge amount of money on maintaining our infrastructure such as roads, bridges, tunnels and embankments and there’s a huge amount of disruption associated with it. These materials have the ability to heal their own cracks; they sense damage and they repair themselves without any need for external intervention.Professor Abir Al-Tabbaa
Abir Al-Tabbaa, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, leads the Cambridge research team working on the EPSRC-funded Resilient Materials 4 Life (RM4L) project in collaboration with three other UK universities, as well as a large number of industry partners.
As part of a BBC Look East programme on the A14 upgrade (first broadcast on November 27, 2018), Professor Al-Tabbaa gave an interview on the importance of self-healing infrastructure materials and systems during a segment on ‘roads of the future’. These materials and systems have the ability to not only ‘sense’ damage, but can also self-diagnose and adapt to their environment, building stronger defence mechanisms against damage in the process.
“Self-healing systems are very important because we spend a huge amount of money on maintaining our infrastructure such as roads, bridges, tunnels and embankments and there’s a huge amount of disruption associated with it,” Professor Al-Tabbaa told the BBC. “These materials have the ability to heal their own cracks; they sense damage and they repair themselves without any need for external intervention.”
Also interviewed as part of the programme were RM4L Research Associates Dr Livia Ribeiro de Souza and Dr Chrysoula Litina. They discussed microcapsule and vascular network self-healing systems and the commercial application of self-healing microcapsule-based concrete blocks.
Dr Ribeiro de Souza is researching capsules the size of sand grains designed to sit inside concrete. Any crack in the concrete will cause the microcapsules to split open, releasing a healing agent that then fixes the crack.
The RM4L research team are addressing a number of large and significant challenges as they make major advances in the realisation of intelligent infrastructure materials. Challenges include the tailoring, modelling and optimisation of the developed self-healing systems for targeted applications, which include precast slabs, repair systems, tunnel linings, basements and marine renewables.
Shaping the World commemorative book
The RM4L project – involving University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, University of Bath and University of Bradford – has been selected as one of 200 projects from around the world to feature in a commemorative book to mark the 200th anniversary of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).
ICE200 Shaping the World represents the story of civil engineers and civil engineering over the past 200 years, illustrating how engineering has transformed and continues to transform lives, and how it is shaping the world and making a positive impact every day.
“We are honoured that the RM4L project is featured alongside some of the most iconic civil engineering achievements,” said Professor Al-Tabbaa.
Shaping the World is available for purchase here.
The RM4L programme grant, supported with an investment of £4.9million from EPSRC, started in 2017. It is building on the success of its predecessor, the EPSRC-funded project Materials for Life (M4L), which has led to major advances in the development of transformative construction materials, and culminated with the UK's first ever self-healing concrete full-scale trials. This involved the installation of five retaining walls on the A465 Heads of the Valley site, facilitated by Costain, the main contractor and strategic partner of the RM4L programme grant.
The vision of the RM4L programme grant is that by 2022, construction materials will be capable of adapting to their environment; developing immunity to harmful actions; self-diagnose the on-set of deterioration; and self-heal when damaged.
The UK RM4L team are lead partners in the EU COST Action SARCOS: Self-healing As preventive Repair of COncrete Structures, working in collaboration with academic colleagues from over 20 EU countries, and lead partners in the newly established RILEM Technical Committee SHE: Self-healing concrete – its efficiency and evaluation, bringing together international academic collaborators in this fledgling and exciting new field.