Self-Healing Polymer ‘Very Close’ to Commercial Production

BY  10.12.2018 :: 9:26AM EDT

Self-healing materials could get a lot cheaper, thanks to a breakthrough at Clemson University.

Scientists have been making small batches of curative material for two decades. But producing them on a commercial scale is expensive.

Luckily, Marek Urban and his team found a way to give self-healing qualities to polymers already used in low-cost goods like paints, plastics, and coatings.

“This is something that is very important,” Urban, a professor in the department of materials science and engineering at Clemson, said in a statement.

Instead of building new factories, manufacturers could introduce this technology into existing workshops.

“It’s not available at the industrial scale, but it’s very close,” according to Urban.

This study, published in Science, marks the second time since 2009 that the researcher has detailed his work on self-healing polymers in the prestigious journal.

“We know exactly how to design those things, and that’s what makes me think that taking this technology to the next level would be relatively easy,” he said.

There is certainly an interest in re-healable electronics—be it in shoesairplanesspacecraftfabric, smartphones, or robots.

Earlier this year, researchers found that aluminum oxide, when applied in ultra-thin layers, can flow like liquid instead of cracking. This novel coating method could come in handy to prevent leakage of tiny molecules that penetrate most materials.

“I hope that this research will open up not only a new field of self-healing polymer materials,” Urban said. “But also will make people realize that those … interactions, which we never utilized in the past could have [a] tremendous impact on developing of new technologies.”

Exactly what those technologies are remains unclear; Urban mentions latexes, paints, and “many other types of coating applications,” but never gets specific.

Co-authors on this study include Dmitriy Davydovich, Ying Yang, Tugba Demir, Yunzhi Zhang, and Leah Casabianca, all of Clemson University.

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, were inspired by Marvel Comics when creating a new component that not only heals itself, but can stretch up to 50 times its usual size. Read more about self-healing technology here.