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New Solar Powered Polymer Makes Self-Healing Plastics

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self_healing_polyurethane

We normally use solar power to juice things up, and to create pollution-free electricity. Normally, we wouldn’t think of anything else when it comes to energy usage, recycling, but scientists prove us there’s much more to do with sunlight. Even recycling… in a way.

Biswajit Ghosh and Marek Urban from the University of Southern Mississippi have invented a new polymer able to use the solar UV light to activate a self-repair capacity in plastic materials.

The researchers use three chemicals to do that: polyurethane, OXE and CHI. I know, it sounds like Dexter’s lab, but polyurethane is already a good scratch-resistant material, and those two others help the surface heal itself.

The compound named OXE has an unstable chemical structure (a four-membered ring containing three carbons and one oxygen) that makes it prone to being split open, and the CHI is UV-sensitive.

When damaged by a scratch, the OXE will split and create two reactive ends. CHI, being triggered by ultraviolet light, will form new links with the reactive OXE ends, and fix the break in the polymer.

Gosh and Urban tested the materials using a UV light a little more powerful than the one that the Sun is providing in a summer day, and got a decent self-repair (negligible scratches) of the material in just 30 minutes. They say the self-repair can work in both dry and very humid air.

There is still some work that has to be done for this technology to become commercialized, since details like what happens in the case of re-scratching the healed zone, have to be set up. Anyway, let’s hope our phones’ screens will not need replacement because of scratching.

And that is the green part of this invention.

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