Self-healing technology is nothing new and first emerged in 2001, when researchers at the University of Illinois created a plastic capable of repairing itself when it cracked. The researchers at Bristol University have been working on developing the technology for 3 years and is being billed as an important breakthrough that could apply to all kinds of carbon fibre composite materials.
Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday, Professor Duncan Wass, said he expected self-healing products to reach consumers in the “very near future”. The professor and his team have been working with aerospace engineers at the University who wanted to find a way of preventing the tiny undetectable cracks that form in an aircrafts wing and fuselage.
The team specialise in modifying carbon fibre composite materials and came up with the idea to add tiny, hollow “microspheres” to the carbon material, so small that they look like a powder to the human eye, which break on impact, releasing a liquid healing agent. The agent seeps into the cracks left by the damage before coming into contact with a catalyst, triggering a rapid chemical reaction which causes it to harden.
Professor Wass told the Independent on Sunday
We took inspiration from the human body, we’ve not evolved to withstand any damage, if we were like that we’d have a skin as thick as a rhinoceros, but if we do get damaged, we bleed, and it scabs and heals. We just put that same sort of function into a synthetic material: let’s have something that can heal itself.
The healing material, could take anywhere between a couple of hours and a day to recover, with warmer temperatures accelerating it and colder destinations such as a runway in Reykjavik, Iceland during winter taking longer.
The technology could make airline safety checks far cheaper and easy to spot as a dye could be added to the catalyst causing any damage to an aircraft to stand out like a bruise. This would allow engineers to quickly find damaged areas when examining the plane and ensure that they don’t miss anything.
The research is due to be presented at a Royal Society meeting in London this week and was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s UK Catalysis Hub, a collaborative project between universities and industry.