Self-healing irrigation canals in Ecuador

High up in the Andean Mountains in Ecuador CEG researchers Dr. Henk Jonkers and Virginie Wiktor are trying to prevent irrigation canals from cracking by applying self healing concrete.

In Llanganates National Park, located in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, seven communities depend on the concrete Cruzsacha canal for irrigating their fields. The fluctuations in temperature at this high altitude put this canal under a lot of stress, since it induces cracks in the concrete. As a result, the canal’s durability is reduced and water is lost from the canal because of leakage, which leads to crop failure and eventually even food shortage. Replacing or repairing cracked parts of the canal is time consuming and very expensive.

CEG researchers Dr. Henk Jonkers and Virginie Wiktor teamed up with four pupils from a secondary school in Wageningen and researchers from the Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Guayaquil. They want to rebuild parts of the canal using self-healing concrete, concrete with little globules that contain bacteria that produce limestone when coming into contact with water.

The idea came from the four pupils.The father of one of the pupils was involved in setting up a project in the area and encountered the problem of leaky irrigation canals. Through a yearly scientific contest called Imagine, which they won in 2012, they were able to link up with scientists Jonkers and Wiktor at Delfts Microlab (CEG-faculty). They finished their end‐of‐the‐year project there to learn all about applying self-healing concrete.

Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Guayaquil is a partner in the project and arranged funding from the ‘Ecuadorian National Science Foundation’ to further develop it. In conjunction the Universities decided to use natural fibres together with the healing agent to improve the concrete, control the crack widths and assure the crack healing. The chosen fibres were Abaca, indigenous to Ecuador. The abaca – bacteries mixture will be tested over the coming weeks in a valley high up in the Andean Mountains. The local farmers who use the water from the canal will also be part of the project as they volunteered to help with the materials and handwork.

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