Microbes eat their way to better concrete

September 22, 2004

Two South Dakota School of Mines and Technology researchers are creating living organisms that may provide a better way to seal cracks in concrete.

Dr. Sookie Bang, professor, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Dr. Venkataswamy Ramakrishnan, distinguished professor emeritus, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, are conducting the research. The two recently were awarded $51,601 in additional funding from the National Science Foundation to continue their work.

This is the second of a three-year project. During the current funding cycle, Bang and Ramakrishnan plan to develop genetically engineered microorganisms that can produce excess amounts of organic and inorganic biosealant.

"This microbial sealant is a smart material that is environmentally safer and economically more feasible than the currently available synthetic sealing materials," Bang said. "Our innovative approach introduces cutting-edge biotechnology in concrete crack remediation."

The microbes seal concrete surface cracks with their metabolic byproducts. That's already been done, so Bang and Ramakrishnan plan to use genetic engineering to create microbes that produce even more metabolic byproducts. The researchers will put the microbes through a wide range of concrete performance tests to measure the endurance and resistance of the repaired concrete to environmental changes.

Beyond concrete reinforcement, these environmentally innocuous biological products can be used as a sealing or caulking agent for the gaps in building structures, bioremediation means to confine contaminated aquifers or subsurface soils through selective cementation, and possibly as a dust controller for surface soils.

The project also provides excellent research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students who are actively involved conducting research experiments, analyzing data, presenting their findings at conferences and preparing journal publications.

The research also offers potential economic development opportunities. If the research proves successful, "we will attempt to produce the microbial sealant in large scale to be commercially available in the future," Bang said.
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South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

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