Scientists from the Lublin University of Technology in cooperation with the Instituto Superior Técnico from Lisbon are working on the process of self-healing of plastic materials. Thanks to this, for example – as scientists assume – a damage on the hood of a car or a crack in the sole of a shoe will heal itself.
– Self-healing materials are already in use. We, on the other hand, have created a new idea based on this phenomenon, consisting in using them in materials such as metal-fibre composites of the FML type (Fiber Metal Laminates). The components of these composites – i.e. fibers and polymers – are used as materials from which, for example, snowboards or skis are made, says Dr. Eng. Monika Ostapiuk from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering of the Lublin University of Technology.
Together with Prof. Jarosław Bieniaś and prof. Barbara Surowska and scientists from the Portuguese university Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon is working on microencapsulation. A self-healing process of plastic materials that brings to mind science fiction movies like The Terminator.
The mechanism is similar to that which occurs when broken bones heal or skin heals. It consists in an immediate response to damage.
So far, only micro-cracks are closing
– The whole process starts already during the production of the composite. It consists in adding special microcapsules to it, which in the event of damage to such a composite (when, for example, a crack appears on a snowboard – ed.) They will disintegrate, releasing a regenerating substance inside them. Thanks to this, to some extent, the damage will be repaired – explains our interlocutor.
He adds that it should be remembered that – at least for now – we are talking about very small damage, i.e. microcracks measured in micrometers (one micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter) and nanometers (one millionth of a millimeter). A single capsule is also sized in micrometers.
They are working to speed up the self-healing process
– Scientists from Lisbon are behind the development of microcapsules. On our side is to introduce them to the composite. Microcapsules can be used, for example, in car hoods or shoe soles, but also in the space and aviation industries. However, it should be remembered that the opening of the microcapsule takes place only once and the damage can seal in a given place only once. The second time the part will have to be replaced with a new one – explains Dr. Ostapiuk.
Currently, scientists are working to speed up the self-repair process.
– It takes a few hours now. Perhaps in the future it will be possible to adapt the capsules to rebuild even larger damage – admits the researcher.
Main photo source: Lublin University of Technology