'Smart Concrete' Tech Used on US Highways


A professor at Purdue University has reportedly invented concrete sensors that are now being used in interstate reconstruction projects across the U.S. in an attempt to prevent premature concrete failures.

According to a release from Purdue University, the "smart concrete" sensors can help roadbuilders determine when fresh concrete is mature enough to be driven on without having to take and analyze concrete samples. 

About the Sensors

Luna Lu, acting head of Purdue’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering, has reportedly been leading the development of the sensors since 2017. Lu formed the startup company WaveLogix in 2021 to develop the Rebel Concrete Strength Sensors, aiming to market and manufacture them on a larger scale.

The sensors “directly monitor the fresh concrete and accurately measure many of its properties at once,” according to the release. The sensor reportedly communicates to engineers via a smartphone app when the pavement is strong enough to handle heavy traffic.

The concrete sensors are reportedly installed before the concrete pour and then covered with concrete. A sensor cable is then plugged into a reusable handheld device that logs concrete-strength data in real time for as long as the data is needed.

The technology is reportedly designed to prevent the discrepancies that can arise during the lab testing of concrete’s strength, which can result in opening a new road too soon and shortening the concrete’s life.

According to a recent report from Equipment World, having accurate real-time data can help new roads to open on time and reduce future construction costs, also potentially leading to a reduction in carbon emissions. 

The smart concrete reportedly works through sensors embedded into the pour during construction. The smart factor involves telling engineers, through a smartphone app, when the concrete has reached maximum strength after construction or when it is beginning to break down.

“Traffic jams caused by infrastructure repairs have wasted 4 billion hours and 3 billion gallons of gas on a yearly basis,” said Lu. “This is primarily due to insufficient knowledge and understanding of concrete’s strength levels.”

Lu’s company, WaveLogix, reportedly licenses the technology from the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, which applied for patent protection on the property. The Rebel Concrete Strength Sensors are reportedly expected to hit the market later in the year.

According to Lu, who is also director of the Center for Intelligent Infrastructure, digitally improved roadways could cut down on construction, be better for the environment and be more adaptive to future needs as vehicles change.

Additionally, Lu stated that she is developing a way to use the sensors’ data to reduce carbon emissions associated with concrete production and roadwork. By harnessing artificial intelligence, Lu’s company is reportedly developing a way to prevent concrete mixes from being overloaded with cement, which can lead to premature cracking.

“The biggest problem with concrete mixes is that we use more cement to increase the concrete’s strength,” Lu said. “That won’t help open the road to traffic any sooner.”

Lu estimates that “concrete mix overdesign causes more than 1 billion tons of carbon emissions per year.” She expects to be able to reduce the amount of cement in mixes by up to 25% with artificial intelligence, thereby reducing costs and pollution.

“I feel a strong sense of responsibility to make an impact on our infrastructure through developing new types of technology,” Lu stated. “In the field of civil engineering, if we don’t make an impact on the world, there won’t be a world to worry about.”

Chosen from a pool of nearly 1,400 applicants, 124 final projects across 21 categories were reportedly selected for already making an impact on a real-world problem while also showing promise to make a greater impact in the years to come. Among large corporations and small startups, Purdue is the only university reportedly represented on the list.

With funding from the Federal Highway Administration, states with concrete interstates are participating in tests of the sensors. Indiana and Texas are reportedly the first two states to deploy them.

Prototypes of the sensors have been in place throughout Indiana highways since 2019, thanks to Purdue partnerships with the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The sensors were added during concrete pours on a stretch of I-35 in Hillsborough, Texas, and to a new I-469 ramp being built in Indiana near Indianapolis, as well as on sections of I-70 and I-74.

A Federal Highway Administration nationwide pooled fund has also reportedly allowed seven other states to join the project. Missouri, North Dakota, Kansas, California, Tennessee, Colorado and Utah are all also reportedly participating in the study.

Recent Concrete Developments

In June, the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology’s Green Construction by Photocatalyst Research Group reportedly developed a photocatalytic concrete that can remove fine particulate matter from roads. 

Specifically focused on underground tunnels, the team stated that this concrete can reduce fine particulate matter generation through reactions to artificial light sources.

According to the report, the best way to improve internal air quality in road infrastructure is to remove fine particulate matter “precursors” that are generated by car exhaust gases. Researchers reportedly determined that construction materials utilizing photocatalysts are one solution to this particulate matter pollution.

In May, the research group reportedly completed a trial application of the concrete on the inner walls of the Banpo Underground Road Tunnel in Seoul, Korea. The team states that the trial’s aim was to “verify the effectiveness” of research findings in actual use.

Artificial light sources were then installed on the wall of the underground road tunnel where the new concrete was applied, allowing the photocatalytic function to work without direct sunlight.

According to the outcomes, the use of this new concrete resulted in an approximate 18% reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx) concentration levels over a 24-hour period. Additionally, the results reportedly showed that the products of photocatalytic degradation were “effectively washed away by rain,” and converted into salts because of the calcium content in the concrete.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Colleges and Universities; concrete; Concrete defects; Environmental Control; Health & Safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Research and development; Roads/Highways; Technology; Tools & Equipment

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