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Cambridge geotechnics team develop self-healing concrete

dr livia de sousa

University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering’s Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group have developed a technique to create self-heling concrete.

The researchers are using microencapsulation technologies developed by Dolomite Microfluidics to develop self-healing construction materials.

The microcapsules contain “healing” agents, such as minerals, epoxy or polyurethane, which can be added to building materials to allow self-repair of small cracks which develop over time.

University of Cambridge postdoctoral researcher Livia Riberio de Souza (pictured) said: Many composite building materials used in the construction industry, such as concrete, suffer fatigue over time, developing small cracks. We are hoping to overcome this problem by adding microcapsules filled with ‘healing’ agents to the concrete before it is used. The idea is that, as cracks begin to form, they rupture the microcapsules, releasing their payload and stabilising the material.

“This approach requires the formation and functionalisation of double emulsion microcapsules, which we have been producing with the help of microfluidics. We have been using a Dolomite Microfluidics system since 2014 and find that microfluidics offers much better control of particle size and composition than traditional emulsification polymerisation techniques, simplifying the investigation and optimisation of particle properties.”

The Dolomite system has enabled the researchers to create functionalised microcapsules that bind more strongly to the cement matrix, while also having thinner shell walls and higher core retention, improving their self-healing properties.

According to Riberio de Souza, working with the specialists at Dolomite is helping to accelerate the research and move it closer to use is real world applications.

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