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Self-healing concrete could make PNW’s potholes a thing of the past

(SDOT)

Our wet and somewhat cold conditions in the Pacific Northwest are the perfect conditions for creating potholes. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to keep them from forming?

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I was driving Highway 522 westbound through Woodinville yesterday. I had to weave in and out of the horrible road surface there. The potholes and deteriorating roadway is just brutal to drive, and we have roads like that all over the region (Ship Canal Bridge, I’m looking at you).

During a recent discussion on Seattle’s Morning News, host Dave Ross wondered why we couldn’t create some kind of self-healing or repairing road surface that could prevent potholes from forming. It turns out that self-healing concrete actually exists, and is being tested.

The original formulation was to put bacteria and its food into the concrete mix. That bacteria would lay dormant until it a crack started forming. It would then activate and fill in the spaces.

Researchers are now testing a man-made polymer mixed into the concrete that will do the same thing. Carlos Fernandez, at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said it works on very small cracks, about half a millimeter in size, preventing larger cracks from forming.

“The self-healing is fairly quick,” he said. “Before the crack propagates to a size that you can see, it will repair itself.”

And it only takes 24 to 48 hours to do it. Fernandez said it has the potential to double the life-span of concrete, which would also means significant savings over normal concrete.

This self-healing concrete is still about five to seven years away from being commercially available, as researchers look to perfect the proper formula to use the concrete universally. The polymer reacts differently to differing environmental conditions, like humidity and extremely high or low temperatures.

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