We recently asked if you would feel safe driving across this sturdy-looking recycled plastic bridge–but how would you like if the plastic was replaced with mud? Researchers at the University of Tokyo, Japan think that their special mixture of water and clay could one day replace plastics, which require massive amounts of oil to produce.
The researchers’ mud is made of 100 grams of water, a few grams of clay, a thickening agent called sodium polyacrylate, and an organic molecular glue that holds the whole thing together. The resulting hydrogel forms in just three minutes and can form a 3.5 centimeter wide self-standing bridge–not exactly real-world bridge material, but impressive nonetheless for a mixture made with 98% water.
Eventually, the Japanese researchers hope their mud can form a new class of materials that are tough, long-lasting, and have the ability to self-heal. Lofty goals, but strengthening the mud is apparently as easy as increasing the quantities of water, clay, sodium polyacrylate and glue. The process is simple enough that knowledge of the chemical processes going on inside isn’t required, and that means it shouldn’t be difficult to mass produce the super-strong mud. The next big hurdle, of course, will be to convince consumers that mud is an acceptable substitute for plastic.