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Concrete Repair, Rehabilitation and Retrofitting II Alexander et al (eds)

2009 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-0-415-46850-3

Crack repair in concrete using biodeposition


N. De Belie & W. De Muynck
Magnel Laboratory for Concrete Research, Department of Structural Engineering,
Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

ABSTRACT: The ability of certain bacteria to promote the precipitation of calcium carbonate, has been used
advantageously for consolidation of concrete and stone or for the densification of sandy soils. Previous research
has illustrated a reduction of the capillary permeable porosity and an increased resistance to damage processes
such as chloride ingress and carbonation by this biodeposition procedure.
In order to explore the crack healing potential of a biodeposition treatment, standardised cracks of 0.3 mm
were produced in concrete specimens by introducing thin copper plates in fresh concrete and removing them
after 1 day, or by performing splitting tensile tests on concrete cores wrapped in fibre reinforced polymer
sheets. The use of pure bacteria cultures as in the previously developed biodeposition procedure, did not result
in sufficient calcium carbonate precipitation to completely bridge the cracks. Therefore, the bacteria were protected in a silica sol, resulting in the formation of a bioceramic material (sol-gel or biocer) which was able to
bridge the cracks completely. The crack healing potential was illustrated by microscopic evaluation, ultrasound
transmission measurements and low pressure water permeability tests. The treatment of cracks with the bacteria
incorporated in the sol-gel resulted in a large reduction of the water permeability.

1
1.1

INTRODUCTION
General

In concrete, cracking is a common phenomenon due to


the relatively low tensile strength. High tensile stresses
can result from external loads, imposed deformations
(due to temperature gradients, confined shrinkage,
differential settlement), plastic shrinkage, plastic settlement, expansive reactions (e.g. due to reinforcement corrosion, alkali silica reacion, sulphate attack).
Without immediate and proper treatment, cracks tend
to expand further and eventually require costly repair.
Durability of concrete is also impaired by these
cracks, since they provide an easy path for transportation of liquids and gasses that potentially contain
harmful substances. If microcracks grow and reach
the reinforcement, not only the concrete itself may be
attacked (direct degradation). Also the reinforcement
may corrode when it is exposed to water and oxygen,
and possibly carbon dioxide and chlorides (indirect
degradation). Microcracks are therefore precursors
to structural failure. For crack repair, a variety of
techniques is available. Injection with epoxy resin or
cement grout are the most popular ones. Traditional
repair systems such as those based on epoxy resin
have a number of disadvantageous aspects, such as
a different thermal expansion coefficient compared

to concrete and environmental and health hazards.


Therefore bacterial induced calcium carbonate deposition has been proposed as an alternative and environment friendly crack repair technique.

1.2

Principle of microbiologically induced


carbonate precipitation

Ureolytic micro-organisms can induce extracellular


precipitation of CaCO3 by degradation of urea into
ammonia and carbon dioxide. This increases the pH
at the cell surface and promotes the microbial deposition of carbon dioxide as calcium carbonate. Through
this process the bacterial cell is coated with a layer of
calcium carbonate, resulting in death of the microorganism. However, in the meantime a loose carrier
material such as sand may be bound together, or a
porous material may be consolidated. This technology has also been successfully applied on limestone
monuments (Castanier et al. 1999; Tiano et al. 1999).
In a project carried out in collaboration between the
Magnel Laboratory for Concrete Research and the
Laboratory for Microbial Ecology and Technology
of Ghent University, first the criteria for the selection of calcium precipitating Bacillus sphaericus
strains were established: high urease activity, abundant EPS-production, a good biofilm production and

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a very negative -potential (Hammes et al. 2003;


Dick et al. 2006). Concrete and mortar samples of
different porosity were treated with pure cultures and
with ureolytic sludge in combination with different
calcium sources and nutrient solutions (De Muynck
et al. 2008; De Muynck et al., in press). CaCO3 deposition resulted in a decrease of the water absorption
ranging from 65 to 90%. As a consequence, the carbonation rate and chloride migration respectively
decreased by about 2530% and 1040%. Similarly,
an increased resistance towards freezing and thawing was noticed. The use of calcium precipitating
micro-organisms for crack remediation has not yet
been investigated in depth, but the possibility was
proven by Ramachandran et al. (2001). Cuts of 3 mm
width could be sealed using B. pasteurii and up to
about 12 MPa compressive strength was recovered.
However, curing for 28 days in a urea-CaCl2 solution
was necessary. In the currently presented research
the possibility of crack repair through application of
micro-organisms, is explored further.

2
2.1

MATERIALS AND METHODS


Concrete samples

Concrete samples were prepared with ordinary Portland cement CEM I 52.5 N (300 kg/m), aggregates
8/16 (790 kg/m) and 2/8 (490 kg/m), sand 0/4
(670 kg/m) and water (150 kg/m). They were cured
for 28 days at a temperature of 20C and a relative
humidity (RH) of 90%. The compressive strength
determined on cubes with 150 mm side amounted to
55 N/mm2.
2.2

Creation of cracks

Standardised cracks were made in concrete samples


of 160 160 70 mm by introducing copper plates
of 0.3 mm thickness up to a depth of 10 or 20 mm
into the fresh concrete. These plates were removed
after 24 h.
More realistic cracks were obtained by splitting
tests on FRP reinforced cylinders. From concrete
cubes of 150 mm side, cylinders of 80 mm diameter
were taken. These were protected with tape and a glass
fibre reinforced polymer sheet was glued around the
circumference with epoxy resin. Each wrapped cylinder of 150 mm height was cut in half, to obtain two
cylinders of 75 mm height, which were subjected to
a splitting test. From each 75 mm specimen, three
samples of 20 mm height were taken afterwards.
Only samples with a visible crack were selected for
further use. Mostly the crack was running completely
throughout the cylinder diameter.

The crack width was determined with an accuracy


of 0.02 mm at 5 locations equally divided along the
crack length, using a crack microscope. The crack
width measured on 21 cylinders varied between
0.01 mm and 0.60 mm (mean value: 0.20 mm).
2.3

Crack repair

Cracks were repaired by traditional methods and by


biodeposition treatments as listed below.
2.3.1

Traditional methods: epoxy and cement


grout
The two component epoxy resin was injected into the
crack using an injection needle. The two component
cement bound mortar (grout) was applied using a
spatula. The area near the crack was protected with
tape during the application.
2.3.2 Biodeposition treatments
Bacillus sphaericus strains had been isolated earlier
from calcareous sludge from a biocatalytic ureolytic
calcification reactor and had been deposited at the
BCCM culture collection in Ghent. The strain LMG
222 57 was used in this research because of its optimal
CaCO3 precipitation capabilities (Dick et al. 2006). A
lot of research on biodeposition has been conducted
with CaCl2 as the calcium source (Bang et al. 2001;
Adolphe et al. 1990; Ferris & Stehmeier 1992). As
chloride ions are detrimental for the concrete reinforcement, the use of calcium nitrate Ca(NO3)24H2O
as an alternative calcium source was investigated
here. In order to protect the bacteria from the strong
alkaline environment in concrete (at pH values above
11, the bacterial activity is stopped), the bacteria were
immobilised in silica sol-gel in some treatments. This
is an aqueous colloidal suspension of amorphous
silica (SiO2). The sol-gel used was anionic with a
specific surface area of 200 m/g and a solids content
of 30%.
The different treatments were applied by placing
the samples on plastic rods in the treatment solution,
in such manner that the liquid level was 10 mm above
the lower side of the specimens. Following treatments
were carried out:
Medium
The samples were immersed for 3 days in an equimolar solution of ureum (20 g/L) and CaCl22H2O (49
g/L) or Ca(NO3)24H2O (78 g/L).
BS + CaCl2
The samples were immersed for 24 h in a Bacillus
sphaericus culture grown overnight (growth medium:
20 g/L yeast extract and 20 g/L ureum). After this
inoculation, specimens were wiped with a paper towel
to remove some bacteria from the surface. In this way
ureolytic activity primarily resulted from bacteria

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inside the specimens. Then they were immersed


for 3 days in an equimolar solution of ureum and
CaCl22H2O.

pipet

BS + sol-gel + CaCl2 or BS + sol-gel + Ca(NO3)2


Fifty ml of a culture grown overnight was centrifuged
at 4C and 7000 rpm. The resulting pellet was suspended in a solution of 10 ml demineralised water
and 40 ml sol-gel. After addition of 1.2 g NaCl the
solution was vortexed during 30 s. The suspension
was applied in the cracks using a syringe. This was
repeated at 5 min intervals until the entire crack
was sealed. After gel formation, the samples were
immersed for 3 days in an equimolar solution of
ureum and CaCl22H2O or Ca(NO3)24H2O.

rubber seal

Sol-gel
The samples were immersed for 20 min in the silica
sol and dried for 24 h at room temperature. This treatment was repeated three times.
Sol-gel + BS + CaCl2
The samples were treated with sol-gel as described
above, followed by the BS + CaCl2 treatment.
2.4

Evaluation of crack repair

The effect of the crack repair was visualized with a


crack microscope. Furthermore the effect of repair on
the transmission time of ultrasound waves and on the
water permeability coefficient was determined.
2.4.1 Ultrasound
Ultrasound waves travel much easier in hardened
concrete than in water or air: ultrasound velocities in
those media amount to 40005000 m/s, 1480 m/s and
350 m/s (at 20C and 100 kPa) respectively. Therefore they will travel around an open fissure, but when
the crack is sealed they will be able to travel through
the sealant and the travel time will be reduced. Ultrasound transmission experiments were carried out in
triplicate on concrete prisms of 160 160 70 mm
with a standardized crack of 10 or 20 mm deep.
Measurements were taken in a direction orthogonal
to the crack at 3 locations near the upper end of the
specimens (where the crack is located) and compared
to measurements in the middle and at the bottom end
of the specimen (further away from the crack).
2.4.2 Water permeability
The efficiency of crack repair was investigated by
monitoring the water permeability of the specimens.
The test method was a slightly modified version of
the low pressure water permeability test described by
Wang et al. (1997). Cylinders of 80 mm diameter and
20 mm height were protected with plastic tape at the
upper and lower surface and then glued into a PVC
ring using epoxy resin. The tape avoided that epoxy

specimen
pvc ring
epoxy resin
rubber tube

Figure 1. Test device for water permeability.

would come into contact with the upper and lower


side of the cylinder and it was removed after hardening of the epoxy. The samples were vacuum saturated
in de-ionised water as described by NBN B05-202.
Each specimen was then mounted between two plexiglas rings in the test device as shown in Fig.1. Rubber seals between the plexiglass and PVC rings were
used to ensure a water-tight setup. At the outer end of
the plexiglass rings, square cover plates with 2 holes
each were applied and the cell was clamped together
with four threaded bars. In one opening in the upper
plate a glass pipet with inner diameter of 10 mm was
positioned and it was covered to avoid evaporation.
In the lower plate a rubber drain tube was attached
and the free end of this tube was positioned level with
the lower end of the concrete sample. Both upper and
lower cell, including pipet and drain tube, were then
filled with de-ionised water, creating a pressure head
of 510 mm.
The drop in water level in the pipet, due to water
flow through the specimen, was measured at regular
time intervals and water was restored to the original
level. The water permeability will not immediately
be constant but will decrease, mostly during several
days. This is supposedly due to an incomplete saturation of the specimens and existence of air bubbles at
the start of the test. A steady state flow was considered
to be reached when similar results were obtained for
the drop in water level during 5 subsequent days. In
steady state conditions, Darcys law (equation 1) can
be used to calculate the coefficient of permeability:
k=

aT h0
ln

At h f

(1)

where a = cross sectional area of pipet (m), A = cross


sectional area of specimen (m), T = specimen

779

thickness (m), t = time (s), h0 and hf = initial and final


water heads (m).

3
3.1

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION


Visual evaluation of crack repair

Fig. 2 shows the level of crack bridging in a standard


crack by different repair methods. Almost all tested
biodeposition treatments, except the medium and
BS + CaCl2 treatments, were able to bridge cracks.
Treatment with medium only (results not shown),
resulted in a limited deposition of calcium carbonate.
For the BS + CaCl2 treatment CaCO3 deposition was
visible at the crack edges and on the sample surface
(Fig. 2a). The cross-sections indicate that the epoxy
treatment and the treatments with BS + sol-gel + CaCl2
and BS + sol-gel + Ca(NO3)2 (not shown) resulted in
a complete filling of the crack, while this was clearly
not obtained in the case of the cement grout.
3.2

Ultrasound

With the ultrasound measurements the increase in


transmission time due to the fissure could be determined: 0.22 0.10 s for the 10 mm fissure and
0.43 0.18 s for the 20 mm fissure (values

(a)

represent the average standard deviation on an


individual measurement). By introducing the average wave velocities measured in the uncracked samples (around 5000 m/s in all specimens), the average
depth of the fissure could be calculated: 9.0 3.3 mm
for the 10 mm fissure and 12.8 3.8 mm for the
20 mm fissure. This means that the 20 mm fissure was not 20 mm deep at all locations or that at
least crack bridging occurred, allowing the ultrasound
waves to take a shortcut. The effect of the epoxy, solgel and BS + CaCl2 treatments was also evaluated
using ultrasound transmission. Decreases in transmission time through the crack, were corrected with
decreases in transmission time at the reference locations to eliminate effects of continuing hydration or
changes in humidity. For the 10 mm fissure, the
epoxy injection and the sol-gel treatment reduced the
transmission time with 0.43 0.20 s and 0.27 0.11
s respectively. Although the variability on the measurements was quite large, considering the increase in
transmission time due to the crack of 0.22 0.10 s,
it can be concluded that the sol-gel treatment allowed
to seal the fissure, whereas the epoxy treatment probably also had a consolidating effect on the concrete
near the crack. For the 20 mm fissure the epoxy,
sol-gel and BS + CaCl2 treatments, decreased the
transmission times with 0.13 0.04 s, 0.23 0.02
s and 0.006 0.009 s respectively. This would
indicate that neither the epoxy, nor the sol-gel treatment allowed to seal the 20 mm fissure completely,
since before repair an increase in transmission time
of 0.43 0.18 s was measured due to the fissure.
As already noticed during visual inspection, the BS
+ CaCl2 treatment on its own was not at all able to
bridge the crack.

(b)
1.8E-09
1.6E-09
1.4E-09

(c)

k (m/s)

1.2E-09

(d)

1.0E-09
8.0E-10
6.0E-10
4.0E-10
2.0E-10
0.0E+00
0.0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

Crack width (mm)

(e)

(f)

Figure 2. Visual evaluation of crack repair at the surface by


BS + CaCl2 (a); BS + sol-gel + Ca(NO3)2 (b); Sol-gel + BS +
CaCl2 (c); cross sections of BS + sol-gel + CaCl2 (d); epoxy
(e) and grout treatments (f); the crack tip is encircled; arrows
indicate the crack edges.

untreated
epoxy
BS+sol-gel+Ca(NO3)2
sol-gel

BS + CaCl2
grout
BS+sol-gel+CaCl2

Figure 3. Water permeability coefficient k vs. crack width


for the different crack repair systems.

780

3.3

REFERENCES

Water permeability

Fig. 3 shows the coefficient of permeability k of the


different samples versus the crack width.
All treatments resulted in a decrease of permeability when compared to the untreated cracked samples.
The grout and BS + CaCl2 treatments were least efficient in improving the watertightness, whereas the
epoxy and BS + sol-gel + CaCl2 or BS + sol-gel +
Ca(NO3)2 treatments were most efficient. This shows
that with the alternative biodeposition treatments, in
which the bacteria are incorporated in a sol-gel and
provided with a calcium source, a similar effect can
be obtained as with a traditional epoxy injection.

CONCLUSION

It was shown that crack repair can be obtained through


biodeposition treatments in which a Bacillus sphaericus culture is incorporated in sol-gel. A calcium
source such as CaCl2 or Ca(NO3)2 should be provided.
Visual examination and ultrasound transmission testing proved that complete sealing of artificial cracks
of 0.3 mm wide and 10 mm deep could be obtained.
In contrast to traditional epoxy injection, a sol-gel
treatment does not seem to affect the porosity of the
material near the crack.
In relation to watertightness, again treatments with
Bacillus sphaericus, sol-gel and a calcium source
appeared to be effective in healing real cracks of 0.01
to 0.6 mm. These repair materials were much more
effective than application of sol-gel or bacteria only.
They also reduced the concrete permeability much
more than a cement grout repair technique and had a
similar effect as epoxy injection.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Adolphe J.M., Loubire J.F., Paradas J. & Soleilhavoup F.


(1990). Procd de traitement biologique dune surface
artificielle. European patent 90400G97.0 (after French
patent 8903517, 1989).
Bang S.S., Galinat J.K. & Ramakrishnan V. (2001) Calcite
precipitation induced by polyurethane-immobilized Bacillus pasteurii. Enzyme Microb Technol, 28(45): 404409.
Castanier S., Le Mtayer-Levrel G. & Perthuisot J.P. (1999).
Ca-carbonates precipitation and limestone genesisthe
microbiogeologist point of view. Sedimentary Geology
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Bacterial carbonate precipitation as an alternative surface
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De Muynck, W., Debrouwer, D., Belie, N. & Verstraete, W.
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in press.
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This research was funded by a Ph.D. grant of Ghent


University (BOF-fund) for Willem De Muynck. The
authors wish to thank Tom Deloof for practical help.

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