A team of engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have a developed a new type of concrete that can last over 120 years. Known as Superhydrophobic Engineered Cementitious Composite (SECC), this water-repellent concrete is comprised of superstrong fibers that will leave bridges and roads without cracks for many years. Using superhydrophobic additives, mixed with superfine powders, the team was able to create a minute spiky surface within the concrete that was nearly impenetrable to water. An addition of unwoven polyvinyl alcohol fibers allows the concrete to bend without becoming brittle and breaking. The water repellent nature of SECC prevents the absorption of water, which is what leads normal porous concrete to crack. This new concrete is also more pliable, which means that if cracks do form, they will not grow and ultimately cause failure.
According to a list by the Government Finance Officers Association, typical concrete roadways can last up to 30 years and concrete bridges may last as long as 40 years. SECC, however, should be able to last four times as long on roads and three times as long on bridges. While this new concrete would cost more than traditional concrete, the decrease in maintenance costs over the life of SECC would more than make the cost worthwhile.
To test their new concrete, the engineers laid a 4-by-15- foot slab of SECC in a university parking garage. They implanted sensors within the concrete so they can monitor the moisture, stress and load levels. This will allow them to analyze the concrete in the real-world and hopefully prove the findings that they saw in the lab.