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ACCIONA develops self-healing materials to extend the working life of infrastructures


ACCIONA Infraestructuras is taking part in the HEALCON and SHINE European projects to develop concrete and road surfaces capable of regenerating themselves

Self-healing materials to extend the working life of infrastructures

ACCIONA Infraestructuras is working in two European projects under the Seventh Framework Program of support to research, to develop materials that are capable of regenerating their initial properties without the need for external intervention. Among the advantages involved in the application of this kind of material is a longer working life of the products, lower costs for maintenance and rehabilitation work, improved levels of safety and a reduction in pollutant emissions. ACCIONA’s participation in the SHINE project focuses on the application of these self-repairing materials to the asphalt mixes used in roads, while in the HEALCON project the company analyzes their use in different types of concrete for construction.

The SHINE Project (Self Healing Innovative Elastomers) has been successful in developing plastic materials that can ‘heal themselves’ at ambient temperature. The research project, involving 12 companies, universities and technology centers from different specialties in six European countries, has led to the creation of a polyurethane in which reversible chemical bonds have been introduced. Following damage or a fracture, the materials can repair themselves and recover 80% of their initial properties within two hours, and practically 100% after one day. ACCIONA Infraestructuras – under the SHINE project – is researching the application of these materials to asphalt mixes, although the new material could be also be used in dynamic sealing applications, dampers and anti-vibration systems used in machinery, vehicles, bridges, railroads and roads.

The HEALCON European project is developing self-repairing types of concrete that can automatically seal small fissures that appear in the material. Over time, continued use, impacts and environmental conditions damage the material. The structures made of self-healing concrete incorporate a self-repairing mechanism that is activated when the micro-fissures appear, before they turn into cracks.  

ACCIONA is working on three channels of research in the HEALCON project: 1) successful tests have been carried out on capsules that become brittle when the micro-fissures occur and release a sealing liquid; 2) progress has been made on the use of polymers capable of absorbing up to 500 times their own weight in water, which can help to seal cracks or help in repair them if they are incorporated into the self-healing concrete; 3) research is also being carried out into the use of bacteria that are introduced into the concrete in latent form in capsules. When a crack occurs, the water penetrates the concrete, the bacteria are activated and start to produce calcium carbonate, which fills the crack. Companies, universities and technology institutes from Germany, Belgium, Holland, Finland and Portugal are taking part in this project.

The next phase, planned for 2016, will involve full-scale tests in which ACCIONA will participate by manufacturing three concrete floor sections in the Demopark at Algete (Madrid). The self-healing bacteria will be incorporated in one of the sections, hydrogels will be added to another, and a third without any self-repairing material will be used for control purposes.

The objective of the participants in the two research projects is, after obtaining very positive results in the laboratory, the development of materials that can be commercialized and price-competitive in the medium term, for applications in infrastructures and buildings on an industrial scale.

ACCIONA stands out for its efforts in R&D+i. In 2013  – the last year for which figures are available – it spent 173.2 million euros in this area, 5% more than the previous year. This puts ACCIONA in 447th position in the world ranking of the 1,000 listed companies with the most money spent on R&D+i (based on the methodology of the global consultancy firm Booz & Company), an effort that has enabled the company to go from 94 to 111 patents, either granted or applied for, in 2013.

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