Materials breakthrough: An anti-corrosive polymer that self-heals and is recyclable
Corrosion is a serious issue that concerns everything from skyscrapers, bridges, ships, airplanes, and cars – basically, everything humans build that involves metals is subjected to oxidation.
A team of scientists at ETH Zurich has now discovered an anti-corrosive polymer that claims to have properties that allow it to diagnose, self-heal, and is recyclable. The product named Poly Phenylene Methylene (PPM) was developed by a team of researchers led by Markus Niederberger and Walter Caseri from the Laboratory for Multifunctional Materials.
According to the team, all countries invest around 3.5 percent of their domestic production in countering the menace, and the figure spent on corrosion protection is estimated to touch around $4,000 billion.
The material, PPM, can be sprayed onto a surface and becomes solid when mixed with paint and heat. "The polymer indicates holes and cracks in the protective layer by failing to fluoresce. What’s more, it repairs any damage itself without further external intervention," said a news release.
Once it reaches the end of its lifecycle, the polymer can be separated and recycled with little wastage. "The recycled polymer can then be applied to another surface without losing its special properties and functions."
The polymer was an accidental discovery
The polymer was a product of the team working on the production of nanoparticles in a special organic solvent. Researchers noticed that in certain conditions, the solvent became solid or it polymerized. “That was unintentional and unwanted. We didn’t know what to do with it at first either," Niederberger said.
Furthermore, along with high thermal stability, the material also displayed properties of fluorescence. In the process to refine the material, the team improved the polymer’s synthesis and started the task of finding a useful application for PPM.
Tests confirm its anti-corrosive properties
The team subjected PPM to various experiments to find that it is highly effective on metals, especially aluminum. Even when applied at ten times thinner quantities, PPM is noted to be more durable than conventional protective agents that are based on epoxy resigns.
The polymer can also seal any damage to the coating by itself. “Self-repair mechanisms are in great demand, but they’re very difficult to attain, and good solutions are still rare,” Caseri said. PPM can achieve this property without the addition of any chemical additives, which get released into the environment from conventional solutions.
The recycling rate which is rated at 95 percent, makes it more sustainable than previous corrosion protection materials. The team was able to reuse the material five times. “There are really only two disposal solutions for epoxy resins: incineration or landfill. Our product allows for a third solution: recycling," said Marco D’Elia, a doctoral student and part of the research team.
Considering the size of the global market, the team sees a huge business opportunity with their product and has applied for a patent for their invention. Their immediate goal is to find an "industry partner to develop the product and to manufacture and distribute it on a large scale."
“Our technology is pretty advanced, but before we can sell it as a product, there are still some improvements for us to make,” said D’Elia.