Researchers Develop 3D-Printed Biofilm to Combat Corrosion

Photo courtesy of Iowa State University College of Engineering.

Transportation infrastructure like roads and bridges are negatively affected by microorganisms and biofilms, as they break down materials like cement and metals, accelerating corrosion and requiring more time and money to maintain. 

It is an industry-standard practice to rid structures of these microorganisms with chemicals to slow corrosion progression, yet such practices often come with high costs and risks to human and environmental health. However, a research team led by Kaoru Ikuma, an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa, USA), have found that other microorganisms — or even the same ones — could actually inhibit corrosion. 

The Iowa State researchers Ikuma recruited for the project have attacked this problem from different angles. Ikuma focuses on the biology and biochemistry aspects of the project. Simon Laflamme, Waldo W. Wegner Professor in Civil Engineering, works with the machines and coding required to automate and print the substances. Rounding out the team, Roy Sturgill, an assistant professor in construction engineering, uses his experience to inform real-world applications and decisions. 

Joining the Iowa State team are experts at the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Florida, who have been working with biofilm printing for years. 

“The team itself is cross-disciplinary, solving a massively complex problem that is a worldwide issue,” says Sturgill. “We all have different backgrounds playing different roles.” 

While 3D bioprinting is not a new technology, using it to prevent corrosion is a new application that may have a potential widespread impact. 

“Corrosion is a multi-trillion-dollar problem with steel and concrete, so providing a solution with a biological process could have an important financial impact and also extend the lifespan of structures,” says Laflamme. “Any level of progress cold be an important game-changer.” 

The biofilm solution devised by the team may also lend a hand to communities in need. 

“If you can come up with a sustainable and self-healing system for corrosion control, it can help inequity problems because it can become more accessible to disadvantaged communities,” says Ikuma. “A biological process that maintains the safety of the structure in those communities is what I’m hoping to do.” 

The project is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator Program, as part of Track M: Bio-Inspired Design Innovations. The program supports multidisciplinary teams of researchers solving challenges by accelerating solutions for societal impact. 

Learn more about the project’s award abstract via the link and watch this space as more developments in the project are announced. 

Source: Iowa State University College of Engineering,