Coating heals itself after damage

There has been a lot of interest in coatings with specific structural properties using the self-organizing properties of functional modules.  Examples include Lotusan, A New Coating Promises the End of Smudges and Stain-shedding coating gets tough.  One of the challenges has been the durability of these nano-structures - minor wear or small scratches can reduce the effectiveness of the coating.  A new approach to self-repairing coatings promises to dramatically increase lifetimes.

A team lead by Prof. Bert de With at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands has developed a method of creating self-healing surfaces.  The functional molecules are attached to polymer "stalks" which are distributed throughout the coating.  As an area is damaged, new stalks are exposed allowing new functional molecules to self-orientate.  An analogy might be the stacked rows of shark's teeth where a lost tooth is replaced by one in the next row.  The hope is that the technology will be able commercially in six to eight years.

Successful inventions typically need to satisfy a range of requirements.  Multi-functionality is a common characteristic in nature.  However, whereas we often treat each requirement independently and rely on compromise to resolve contractions (increased strength often drives increased weight), natural 'solutions' tend to be more systems-oriented which can lead to synergy.  Nested systems or hierarchy are also common characteristics.  In this case, the durability of a functional coating is improved by modifying the underlying structure.

Research paper:

Self-Replenishing Surfaces
T. Dikić, W. Ming, R. A. T. M. van Benthem, A. C. C. Esteves, G. de With
Advanced Materials, Volume 24, Issue 27, pages 3701–3704, July 17, 2012
DOI: 10.1002/adma.201200807

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