Cardiff University trials self-healing concrete
The first major trial of self-healing concrete in the UK, led by a team of researchers from Cardiff University, is being undertaken at a site in the South Wales Valleys.
The project, entitled Materials for Life (M4L), is piloting three separate concrete-healing technologies for the first time in real-world settings, with a view to incorporating them into a single system that could be used to automatically repair concrete in the built environment.
It is estimated that around £40 billion a year is spent in the UK on the repair and maintenance of structures, the majority of which are made from concrete.
The overall aim of the Cardiff-led project is to develop a single system that can be embedded into concrete when it is initially set, and then automatically sense when damage occurs. Once damage is detected, the system will be able to repair itself autonomously without the need for human intervention.
The trial is being undertaken in collaboration with one of the major industrial partners on the project, Costain, and is taking place at one of their construction sites on the Heads of the Valleys road improvement scheme in South Wales – the A465.
The research team, which also includes academics from the University of Bath and the University of Cambridge, is trialling three separate technologies at the site.
The first technique uses shape-shifting materials, known as shape-memory polymers, to repair large cracks in concrete. When these materials are heated with a small current, they can transform into a different shape that the material has ‘memorised’. The researchers believe that these materials can be embedded into concrete and used to close cracks or make them smaller.
In the second technique, researchers will pump both organic and inorganic healing agents through a network of thin tunnels in the concrete to help repair damage.
In the third technique, the team will embed tiny capsules, or lightweight aggregates, containing both bacteria and healing agents into the concrete. It is anticipated that once cracks occur, these capsules will release their cargos and, in the case of the bacteria, the nutrients that will enable them to function and produce calcium carbonate, which the researchers envisage will heal the cracks in the concrete.
The researchers have cast six concrete walls at the test site, each containing the different technologies. Over time the team will load the concrete at specific angles to induce cracks, and then monitor how effective each of the self-healing techniques is.
Professor Bob Lark, the principal investigator on the project from Cardiff University’s School of Engineering, said: “Our vision is to create sustainable and resilient systems that continually monitor, regulate, adapt and repair themselves without the need for human intervention.
“These self-healing materials and intelligent structures will significantly enhance durability, improve safety and reduce the extremely high maintenance costs that are spent each year. This major trial, the first of its kind in the UK, will provide us with important insights to help transfer the technologies from the lab into real-world settings.”
Oliver Teall, a civil engineer at Costain, said: “We are supporting this innovative research to unlock the many potential benefits of self-healing concrete for use within infrastructure. From this trial we should gain an insight into the feasibility of constructing a full-scale structure using these techniques and their early-stage effects on structural properties. We will be monitoring properties such as stiffness, permeability and the mechanical damage recovery of the trial walls in comparison with conventional reinforced concrete walls.”
XYZ Reality receives £20m to develop Assisted Reality
Founded in 2017, XYZ Reality aims to "revolutionise" the construction sector with its Engineering-Grade Augmented Reality (AR) solution, Holosite.
Designed to enable an on time and on budget delivery of construction projects, by eliminating building errors, HoloSite has been available to select customers through an early access programme and has already been used on projects totalling a value of over £1.5bn in the last year.
With approximately 98% of construction megaprojects facing cost overruns or delays and 7-11% of project costs being spent on correcting errors, XYZ Reality’s purpose-built integrated AR solution directly addresses these issues.
With its safety certified AR hardhat, cloud platform and in-built proprietary software, Holosite accurately positions high fidelity 3D design models on construction sites, enabling teams to build it right, first time. The technology system has been used on complex construction projects including data centres, pharmaceutical facilities and airports.
This funding will be used to accelerate the company’s ambition of transforming projects by preparing for HoloSite’s commercial launch in the USA and continuing investment in strengthening research and development. The company is also growing its London team to include key hires across technology, manufacturing, sales and marketing.
David Mitchell, Founder and CEO of XYZ Reality, said developing its engineering-Grade AR solution helping construction teams identify errors in real-time is just the start.
"The next phase is Assisted Reality, where our spatial computing technology will have the intelligence to automatically detect and report issues in the field. And ultimately, the goal is builders building from holograms. Our vision of developing world changing products aligns with Octopus Ventures’ mission of investing in companies that are powering the next industrial revolution. We look forward to building history.”
The latest round of funding is led by Octopus Ventures, one of the largest and most active venture investors in Europe, known for its commitment of investing in companies and founders that are changing the world. Octopus Ventures has a strong track record, spanning investment in health, fintech, consumer, B2B software, and deep tech. This includes WaveOptics, one of Octopus Ventures’ early investments in Augmented Reality, which was recently acquired by Snap Inc.
Rebecca Hunt, early-stage investor at Octopus Ventures, said: "We’ve always invested in entrepreneurs leading industry change and XYZ is doing just that. It's solving a massive problem that costs the construction industry billions every year, using its Engineering-Grade Augmented Reality solution to spearhead a shift in the sector’s approach. The founding team of David, Umar and Murray have deep domain and technical expertise, which we believe makes XYZ uniquely placed to drive this transformation.”
XYZ Reality also announces a new partnership with Mace, for the construction of a hyper-scale data centre in Europe. With speed to market being particularly essential for mission critical builds, HoloSite’s AR technology will have a significant role in supporting an accurate and time effective build for Mace, which last week appointed Jon McElroy its new Managing Director for International Technology.
Mace Technical Director, Stephen Henley, said: “Mace has built a reputation of redefining the boundaries of ambition, always bringing efficiency, innovation and responsibility to our projects. With the implementation of XYZ’s groundbreaking AR system, we continue to be committed to delivering projects faster, safer and better than ever before.”
Five years ago, Heather Bellini of Goldman Sachs Research expected virtual and augmented reality to become an $80 billion market by 2025.
But according to new research by global tech market advisory firm ABI Research, nearly 28 million augmented and mixed reality smart glasses will ship in 2026, while the total global AR/MR market will surpass $175 billion in the same year.
"Major tech players across hardware, software, and services look familiar in the consumer space, contributing to strong and consistent overall growth," says Eric Abbruzzese, Research Director for ABI Research. "Those big tech names, with active investment and product ranging from already available, to announced, to all-but-announced, are creating a consumer AR market that will be dynamic and welcoming rather than struggling and immature."