Less repainting of aircraft, algae-resistant ship surfaces, self-cleaning cars and unsmudgeable cell phones are among the wonders promised from a self-repairing coating being developed by Dutch researchers.
“You may never need to wash your car again, thanks to new coating technology,” Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) crows in a release on the development.
Keeping Coatings Functional
Functional coatings—for example, those with water-resistant or antibacterial properties—are not new, but TU/e says its version boasts a critical difference: It stands up to scratches.
Bart van Overbeeke
|Dr. Catarina Esteves and her team say they have found a way to keep functional coatings functional when scratched.|
Functional coatings have at their surface nano-sized molecular groups that provide their special properties. Those molecular groups have always been easily and irreversibly damaged by scratches or other minor surface contact, which compromises their functional properties.
But the team headed by TU/e Chemical Engineering and Chemistry professor Catarina Esteves says it has solved that problem.
Stalking the Scratch
The scientists have developed surfaces with special “stalks” that carry the functional chemical groups at their ends; these stalks are then mixed through the coating. If a scratch or nick removes the outer surface layer, the “stalks” in the underlying layer reorient to the new surface and restore the function, the university says.
“Damaged surfaces self-replenish their chemical composition by the spontaneous re-orientation of functional groups chemically bonded to the polymer network,” the team reports in “Self-Replenishing Surfaces,” in the July 17 issue of Advanced Materials.
“The repair of the surface chemistry leads to the recovery of surface functionality. This self-replenishing approach is suitable to recover many surface-related properties and constitutes a major breakthrough in extending the service lifetime of functional materials.”
From Ships to Contact Lenses
For now, the coating works only with superficial scratches that do not completely penetrate it, the university says.
|The coating could mean less frequent repainting for aircraft, developers say.|
Still, the team says, the material has numerous potential applications, including mobile phones that remain free from fingerprints, cars that never need washing, and aircraft that require less frequent repainting.
Marine coatings may be made to repel algae; contact lenses, to resist scratching.
With cars, for example, an occasional rain shower will theoretically be all that is needed to keep them clean as water droplets simply roll off, taking dirt with them, the researchers say. In the same way, aircraft, solar panels, mobile phones and other products will remain clean for a longer time, according to TU/e. And cleaner aircraft means less air resistance, which reduces fuel consumption, the team notes.
Esteves and her team will be pursuing the development with other universities and with industrial partners. She expects the first coatings to be ready for production within six to eight years, at prices comparable to those of today’s products.