Dutch researchers may have answered our prayers with new coatings that clean themselves.
Eindhoven University of Technology researchers have developed a new coating with a surface that can repair itself after sustaining damage. Potential real-life applications for this new material include never having to wash your car again, or never having to wipe fingerprints off your phone’s touchscreen.
The researchers published their findings in Advanced Materials on July 17. The research was led by Catarina Esteves of the department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at Eindhoven University of Technology.
Existing functional coatings contain at their surface nano-sized functional groups that provide a specific service, whether that be waterproofing or providing anti-bacterial properties. The weakness of these coatings though is that they are easily and irreversibly damaged by light contact. Obviously with this weakness they are effectively useless for real-world use.
Esteves and her team have pioneered a new method, which includes developing surfaces with special “stalks” carrying the functional chemical groups at their ends, and distributing these throughout the coating. If the outer surface layer is destroyed through scratching, the “stalks” in the lower layer re-orient to the new surface, restoring functionality.
At this stage the technology only works in the case of superficial scratching; if the surface is completely penetrated it will still be rendered useless.
In addition to the applications mentioned above, these new coatings could find uses as varied as self repairing contact lenses to jet aircraft that don’t need to be repainted. The cleaner surfaces would also reduce in lower air resistance in flight, reducing fuel costs.
Now Esteves and her team have plans to refine the technology further and hope to see it in production before the decade is over. For now, though, you’ll have to keep washing your car the old fashioned way.