M4L: Materials for Life

Project: Research council

Project Details


The resilience of building and civil engineering structures is typically associated with the design of individual elements such that they have sufficient capacity or potential to react in an appropriate manner to adverse events. Traditionally this has been achieved by using 'robust' design procedures that focus on defining safety factors for individual adverse events and providing redundancy. As such, construction materials are designed to meet a prescribed specification; material degradation is viewed as inevitable and mitigation necessitates expensive maintenance regimes; ~£40 billion/year is spent in the UK on repair and maintenance of existing, mainly concrete, structures and ~$2.2 trillion/year is needed in the US to restore its infrastructure to good condition (grade B). More recently, based on a better understanding and knowledge of microbiological systems, materials that have the ability to adapt and respond to their environment have been developed. This fundamental change has the potential to facilitate the creation of a wide range of 'smart' materials and intelligent structures. This will include both autogenous and autonomic self-healing materials and adaptable, self-sensing and self-repairing structures. These materials can transform our infrastructure by embedding resilience in the components of these structures so that rather than being defined by individual events, they can evolve over their lifespan. To be truly self-healing, the material components will need to act synergistically over the range of time and length scales at which different forms of damage occur. Conglomerate materials, which comprise the majority of our infrastructure and built environment, form the focus of the proposed project. While current isolated international pockets of research activities on self-healing materials are on-going, most advances have been in other material fields and many have focussed on individual techniques and hence have only provided a partial solution o the inherent multi-dimensional nature of damage specific to construction materials with limited flexibility and multi-functionality. This proposal seeks to develop a multi-faceted self-healing approach that will be applicable to a wide range of conglomerates and their respective damage mechanisms. This proposal brings together a consortium of 11 academics from the Universities of Cardiff, Bath and Cambridge with the relevant skills and experience in structural and geotechnical engineering, materials chemistry, biology and materials science to develop and test the envisioned class of materials. The proposed work leverages on ground-breaking developments in these sciences in other sectors such as the pharmaceutical, medical and polymer composite industries. The technologies that are proposed are microbioloical and chemical healing at the micro- and meso-scale and crack control and prevention at the macro scale. This will be achieved through 4 work packages, three of which target the healing at the individual scales (micro/meso/macro) and the fourth which addresses the integration of the individual systems, their compatibility and methods of achieving healing of recurrent damage. This will then culminate in a number of field-trials in partnership with the project industrial collaborators to take this innovation closer to commercialisation. An integral part of this project will be the knowledge transfer activities and collaboration with other research centres throughout the world. This will ensure that the research is at the forefront of the global pursuit for intelligent infrastructure and will ensure that maximum impact is achieved. One of the primary outputs of the project will be the formation and establishment of a UK Virtual Centre of Excellence in Intelligent Construction Materials that will provide a national and international platform for facilitating dialogue and collaboration to enhance the global knowledge economy.
Effective start/end date1/07/1330/09/16

Collaborative partners

  • University of Bath (lead)
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Cambridge
  • ARUP Group Limited
  • Building Research Establishment
  • Mott MacDonald
  • WSP
  • Shell Global Solutions
  • Alun Griffiths (Contractors) Ltd
  • Atkins Global UK
  • Costain Group plc
  • Laing O'Rourke plc
  • Schlumberger SA
  • Transport Research Laboratory Ltd
  • Aecom Infrastructure & Environment UK Ltd


  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • Resilient materials for life: Biomimetic self-healing and self-diagnosing concretes

    Paine, K., Al-Tabbaa, A., Gardner, D. & Jefferson, T., Mar 2019, UKIERI Concrete Congress: Concrete: The Global Builder: Working together for durable and sustainable infrastructure. Dhir, R. K., Singh, S. P., Bedi, R. & Goel, S. (eds.).

    Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding

  • Self-healing concrete: A resilient material for life

    Paine, K., 5 Jun 2019.

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

  • Application and performance of bacteria-based self-healing concrete

    Paine, K., Sharma, T., Alazhari, M., Heath, A. & Cooper, R., Jun 2018, Proceedings of Final Conference of RILEM TC 253-MCI: Microorganisms-Cementitious Materials Interactions. Bertron, A. & Jonkers, H. (eds.). Vol. 2. p. 387-394

    Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding