“Intelligent Concrete” Heals Itself – Enabling Highways and Bridges to Prevent Their Damage.

“IntRoads always require repairs. Luna Lu gives concrete the capability to “talk” and even heal itself.

The lab she works in at Purdue University is developing technology that allows concrete-paved highways and bridges to be more precise in determining whether they require repairs and equipped with materials that can respond to any damage that might occur.

“We look at how we can address problems in infrastructure using materials and sensors that harness artificial intelligence and big data,” said Lu. She is an associate professor at the Purdue Lyles School of Civil Engineering. “The idea is to make infrastructure adaptive, sustainable and resilient.”

Over one-third of U.S. bridges need repair work in 2020, according to a report from the American Road and Transport Builders Association.

A study shows that concrete heals its cracks in just 28 days. A report on the work will be published soon. Image Credits: Purdue University images/Chang Huang

Getting, an accurate understanding of when concrete is ready for taking on heavy traffic, for instance, can help prevent cracks that are caused by opening roads too early. Reducing the risk of cracks will mean fewer repairs to replace concrete, reducing the amount of traffic typically delayed by these projects.

In 2019, Lu collaborated with the Indiana Department of Transportation to embed three Indiana highway sensors developed by her lab. The highways comprise Interstate 465 near Indianapolis, I-70 close to Plainfield, and I-74 close to Batesville.

The sensor data aids in determining the most suitable timing to allow traffic following a patching or a new pavement installation and monitor concrete development. Lu’s group is working together with Federal Highway Administration to implement concrete sensors across other states.

As they are talking about concrete, Lu and her lab are working on how concrete could heal itself. Self-healing concrete could be especially helpful during harsh winters. In the U.S. Midwest, winter causes concrete to freeze and melt in a series of. When temperatures fall lower than 32 degrees F, water molecules on the road’s surface expand and freeze and crack the concrete.

These cracks cause cracks and fissures throughout many winters. Luna Lu is examining innovative ways to incorporate artificial intelligence into highways and bridges made of concrete, enabling them to stop and repair damage to themselves. Photo Credit: Purdue University photo/John Underwood

Lu’s lab is studying different kinds of highly porous similar to sand, called “internal curing agents” to mix with the concrete. When concrete cracks, curing materials absorb the water and feed the chemical reaction. These reactions create solid substances that fill cracks, “healing” the concrete. The healing process also stops water from entering the concrete and from corroding steel or the reinforcement of rebar.

“By using these self-healing materials, we can make infrastructure adaptive to temperature change,” Lu added. Lu is an American Concrete Pavement Association Scholar in Concrete Pavement and Materials Science.

Lu, along with other researchers, pondering how intelligent infrastructure can influence and adjust to human behavior.

“Traffic is always in a direction. The conventional wisdom is to create additional lanes. However, artificial intelligence and huge data can identify unused lanes and redirect traffic. We’re in the process of developing technology that could enable better traffic control without adding additional lanes.” Lu said.

Intelligent infrastructure is a new field. Through collaborations between other institutions, Lu is working to connect the researchers and resources necessary to build this infrastructure on a massive scale.

Lu manages Lu is the director of the Center for Intelligent Infrastructure, which brings together the knowledge of Purdue researchers across a variety of disciplines, including sensing, materials, and AI. She also assists in establishing the very first Midwest smart infrastructure group through working with various states’ transportation agencies.

“Together, we can draw further data to pinpoint the most effective ways to ensure infrastructure is secure and resilient. We can design algorithms to reveal the vulnerabilities of infrastructure in the future,” Lu said.

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