Revisiting Building Collapse? The Role of Microorganisms by Biliaminu Ibrahim

Building collapse is a tragedy nobody wishes to occur. However, when such are experienced, the next step is to find the solution to prevent future occurrence as the saying “Prevention is better than cure.” One of such solution could be the application of the knowledge of microbiology. Microorganisms simply called microbes are organisms that are microscopic(tiny) in nature and practically unseen to the naked eye except with the aid of microscope. They are such a special organism that they are said to be cosmopolitan.

Research by some group of researchers has found out that some of these microbes have such an amazing feature that they could be employed in construction works in a process called biomineralisation. The application of bacterial biomineralisation is an attractive idea in prolonging the lifetime of cement-based materials, e.g., concrete, and structures such as buildings, bridges and tunnels. Over time, weathering and tensile stresses contribute to the progressive decay of concrete due to the formation of micro-cracks. These micro-cracks allow ingress of water, along with harmful ions such as chlorides that may trigger corrosion of the internal steel reinforcement and sulfates that can attack the internal structure of the concrete itself.

The research was carried out at the University of Bath by scientist led by Susanne Gebhard and published in Microbiology Today May 2018 edition. The result shows that some microorganisms such as members of the genus Bacillus and the related Sporosarcina are ubiquitous in nature, and are relatively robust in their resistance to harsh chemical and physical environments. They also have the added advantage that they can form spores to facilitate long-term survival. The concept of self-healing materials such as concrete is to include these bacteria during the mixing phase so that they are present within the final structure, but cannot immediately grow because of absence of nutrients. Once a crack develops in the concrete, the bacteria gain access to water and nutrients via this crack and start growing.

Self-healing concrete technology would be ideal in the construction of difficult-to-access structures such as tunnels, bridges and underground drainage pipes, which are exposed to constant tensile and weathering stresses. At this time of unstable oil price which result in economic instability, high inflation rate and corruption and other factors coupled together, this innovation could save us from unnecessary expenses expended on constant repair of our roads, bridges and buildings.

Written by Biliaminu Ibrahim an undergraduate student of University of Maiduguri, Borno State

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