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Researchers Eye Fungus for Concrete Fixes

Thursday, August 31, 2017

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Rutgers University researchers think they have found a way to use the moisture that intrudes into concrete to an advantage, citing fungus spores as a way to fix a problem before it even occurs.

Ning Zhang, a professor in the Rutgers Department of Plant Biology, and a team of researchers set out to find a way to fill small cracks in concrete before they develop into larger fissures; their work centered on a bio-based approach that would fill the cracks with calcium carbonate, which has shown promise in concrete repair.

The Idea Mushrooms

The approach they settled on involves a fungus called Trichoderma reesei. The fungus produces calcium carbonate and, the team says, can live under the highly alkaline conditions that deteriorating concrete can produce (via the leaching of calcium hydroxide).

Fungus research slides

Ning Zhang and her fellow researchers see promise in using the fungus Trichoderma reesei to help concrete to repair itself.

If T. reesei spores can be mixed into concrete when it’s first created—and if the spores survive the process—Zhang’s team believes their power can be unleashed when concrete first begins to break down. When small cracks begin to form in concrete that was formulated with the spores, the spores will, according to the theory, begin to grow, given the new moisture exposure.

The growing fungus will then product the calcium carbonate that will shore up the cracks, preventing them from growing.

Spores Amid the Pores

The biggest hitch, the team notes, is that the researchers haven’t yet determined whether the T. reesei spores will be able to survive their incorporation into a concrete mix. The researchers found that the spores are generally about 4 micrometers in diameter, while pores in concrete are much smaller—about 1 micrometer—meaning the spores might not survive the setting of the concrete.

According to the MIT Technology Review, Zhang’s team is looking at incorporating air bubbles into the mixture so that the spores survive, but that method has not been fully tested yet.

The researchers published their work online at arxiv.org, an open-source research publishing platform.


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; concrete; Research

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