DARPA has launched a new program called BRACE to revitalize and impart long-lasting and self-healing capabilities to old concrete structures.
According to DARPA, BRACE—which stands for Bio-inspired Restoration of Aged Concrete Edifices—is inspired by by the vascular systems that support continuous repair in multicellular organisms and ecosystems, and it seeks to address cracks in concrete early on by repairing them and prevent their propagation.
Concrete is said to be the second most consumed commodity on Earth after potable water. There is hardly any structure today without concrete in them. But as inherited concrete infrastructure continues to age, maintaining and repairing concrete becomes an ordeal especially when the structures we are talking about are critical in nature.
Take for instance missile silos and naval piers; these are often many decades old and cannot be repaired easily. The same applies to concrete airfield pavements that are subject to damage from overuse or attack and require rapid repair to maintain high operational tempos.
Stressing on this, BRACE program manager Dr. Matthew J. Pava notes that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has inherited and relies upon concrete infrastructure from the 1940s and 1950s that cannot be easily replaced:
“The BRACE program, if successful, will prevent new damage, shorten repair time, and reduce maintenance costs, allowing for extended infrastructure service life.”
According to Pava, BRACE will focus on two Technical Areas (TAs) to develop long-lasting systems for transport of healing substances throughout concrete, as well as practical tools for applying, maintaining, and predicting the long-term function and performance of these systems.
TA1 will address the challenges of engineering bio-inspired approaches for establishing long-acting vascular structures deep within concrete both to repair cracks and to provide self-diagnostic signals that let the user know they are still functioning after years or decades.
TA2 on the other hand will enable performers to develop methods for applying and maintaining TA1 systems in concrete, rapid aging testbeds for vascularized concrete, and models that predict the system’s effectiveness in averting the need for future repairs.
Performers will respond to both TAs, and BRACE will refine these capabilities in two tracks aligned to repairs on long-term (e.g. steel-reinforced marine or buried infrastructure) and rapid (e.g. expeditionary airfield runway repair) use case timelines.
Once proven conclusive, BRACE’s technologies will be further extended to civilian infrastructure, helping the U.S. better its ranking—currently 13th worldwide—when it comes to the overall quality of infrastructure.
Image and content: Donterase-Pixabay/DARPA