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Navy Additive Helps ‘Heal Like Skin’

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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A new powder added to off-the-shelf commercial primers is helping scratched military vehicles heal themselves before corrosion starts, U.S. Navy developers say.

Developed by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the additive allows the vehicles to "heal like human skin" before the effects of corrosion can reach the metal underneath, according to an announcement by ONR, which provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage.

Jason Benkoski and Marcia Patchan

Researchers Jason Benkoski and Marcia Patchan discuss development of polyfibroblast, which could help protect the Marine Corps version of the JLTV.

The additive, called polyfibroblast, could benefit a variety of vehicles, including the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The JLTV family of vehicles is a joint Army and Marine Corps program.

$500M Problem

From rainstorms to sunlight, tactical vehicles face constant corrosion threats from the elements, ONR reports. Corrosion costs the U.S. Navy about $7 billion each year, including about $500 million for corrosion to Marine Corps ground vehicles, according to the most recent Department of Defense reports.

“Corrosion costs the Department of the Navy billions of dollars each year,” said Marine Capt. Frank Furman, who manages logistics research programs for ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department.

“This technology could cut maintenance costs and, more importantly, it could increase the time vehicles are out in the field with our Marines.”

Vehicles transported and stored on ships also are subject to salt spray from the ocean—a leading cause of problems for military hardware.


The U.S. Navy spends about $500 million for corrosion prevention and control in Marine Corps ground vehicles, according to the Department of Defense.

In one laboratory experiment, polyfibroblast showed it could prevent rusting for six weeks inside a chamber filled with salt fog, the Navy said.

'We Don't Care if It's Pretty'

While many self-healing paints are designed for cosmetic purposes, polyfibroblast is being engineered specifically for tactical vehicles used in a variety of harsh environments, developers say.

“We don’t care if it’s pretty,” said Dr. Jason Benkoski, senior scientist at the university lab and lead researcher on the project. “We only care about preventing corrosion.”

Readiness and Savings

Polyfibroblast is a powder that can be added to commercial-off-the-shelf paint primers. It is made up of microscopic polymer spheres filled with an oily liquid.

When scratched, resin from the broken capsules forms a waxy, water-repellant coating across the exposed steel that protects against corrosion, according to ONR.

JLTV prototype contenders
U.S. Army

The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle family of vehicles is a joint Army-Marine Corps program. The Navy hopes that polyfibroblast can be used to control corrosion on the Marine Corps' version of the JLTV. This composite photo shows some of the JLTV prototype contenders.

Development of polyfibroblast began in 2008 and continued through the succession of three ONR program managers, eventually culminating in promising field and lab tests and a transition to Program Executive Office Land Systems, according to ONR.

“We are still looking into how to make this additive even more effective, but initial results like that are encouraging,” said Scott Rideout, deputy program manager, Light Tactical Vehicles, Program Executive Officer (PEO) Land Systems.

“Carry that out of the lab and into the inventory, and that translates to improved readiness and big savings.”

5-Year Program

ONR says the development of polyfibroblast underscores the Marine Corps’ commitment to be “modernized with equipment and logistics that expand expeditionary capability and preserve our ability to operate from the sea,” as stated in the Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025.

“To go from nothing to deployment in five years would be quite extraordinary,” Benkoski said.

“This progress has a lot to do with ONR’s close relationship with PEO Land Systems and both organizations’ willingness to let me carry out the research in accordance with our shared vision.”


Tagged categories: Additives; Corrosion protection; Military; Primers; Research; Salt fog; Self-healing; U.S. Navy

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