Self-Healing Materials Progress To Plastic, Repairing Damage Under Mild Heat [VIDEO]

By Ben Wolford on April 11, 2014 12:48 PM EDT

Chemists in Germany have created a self-healing plastic that repairs damage under mild heat. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Chemists in Germany have created a self-healing plastic that repairs damage under mild heat. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new type of self-healing plastic repairs surface scratches quickly under mild heat, a group of German chemists reported Friday. Their research builds on the latest advances in this kind of technology. While most materials require some catalyst — an added chemical — to kick off the self-healing reaction, more studies like this one are showing that heat or light or nothing at all can do the trick.

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"Our method does not need any catalyst, no additive is required," says Christopher Barner-Kowollik in a statement announcing their findings. Scratches in the surface of a polymer (aka plastic) begin to smooth over at around 122°F through a chemical reaction called a Diels-Alder reaction. Barner-Kowollik and his team recently described this process in the journal Advanced Materials.

They said their reaction, which fuses fibers and molecules back together, could be used on car exteriors or aircraft. But theirs isn't the first self-healing material that requires no catalyst. In February, for example, scientists in Illinois created self-healing plastic that would fix itself overnight at room temperature and reported their findings in Nature Communications.

And late last year, LG, the mobile phone company, released a video (watch below) of a phone being scratched by a wire brush in a lab. Two minutes later, these light scratches were (mostly) gone. The technology is based on a process developed by NISSAN and the University of Tokyo that uses a self-healing paint finish. The car company created an iPhone case using this technology in 2012.

The new research from Barner-Kowollik, a chemist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, requires more heat to spark the chemical reaction than the plastic developed in Illinois, but it's much faster. "At comparably low temperatures from 50°C to 120°C, the network exhibits excellent healing properties within a few minutes," according to the KIT news release. "Reducing the time needed for healing and optimizing the external conditions, under which the healing process takes place, are the major challenges of research relating to self-healing materials."

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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