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Raw materials & technologies, Science today - coatings tomorrow

Self-healing surfaces

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The engineers‘ dream of self-healing surfaces has taken another step towards becoming reality – researchers have produced a electroplated layer that contains tiny nanometer-sized capsules. If thelayer is damaged, the capsules release fluid and repair the scratch.

Self-healing surfaces. Source: Fraunhofer Gesellschaft

Self-healing surfaces. Source: Fraunhofer Gesellschaft

Researchers form the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Germany, together with colleagues form Duisburg-Essen University, Germany have developed a process for producing electroplated layers with nano-capsules, in a project financed by the Volkswagen Foundation. At only a few hundred nanometers in diameter, the capsules are measured on another scale entirely, compared with previous results. "The challenge lies in not damaging the capsules when producing the electroplated layer", says Dr. Martin Metzner, Head of Department at IPA. "The smaller the capsules, the thinner and more sensitive their casing. The electrolytes used for these electroplated-technical processes are extremely aggressive chemically and can easily destroy the capsules". The researchers therefore had to find a compatible material for the capsule casing depending on the electrolytes used. The researchers have produced the first copper, nickel and zinc coatings with the new capsules, although surface coverage does not extend beyond the centimeter scale. Experts estimate that it will be another one and a half to two years before whole components can be coated. In a further step the team worked on more complex systems involving differently filled capsules, for example, whose fluids react with one another like a two component adhesive.

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