Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT) has recently discovered a remarkably durable and room-temperature self-healable elastomer. Elastomer is a natural or synthetic polymer having elastic properties, which means it can be stretched and when released, can return to its original shape without permanent deformation, just like rubber.
On January 10, 2018, Sung Yeon Hwang, Jeyoung Park, Dongyeop X. Oh, and their co-workers reported a tough, transparent, self-healing thermoplastic urethane. Self-healing, a term usually used for living-beings, is essential in enhancing device lifetime and maintenance costs. Until now, the self-healing product is restricted to fragile gels or required high temperature to self-heal.
“The most important properties of self-healing polymers are recovery at room temperature and prolonged durability. However, their two characteristics are contradictory, making it difficult to optimize them simultaneously,” according to KRICT.
What is so remarkable about this discovery is its toughness. For example, the new material recorded twice the best toughness value for a previously reported room-temperature self-healing polymer. In an experiment, a split of a circular film of the material healed over 75% of the initial mechanical properties in 2 hours at room temperature. After 6 hours, it could withstand 5kg weight.
This new material is transparent and easily processable, which make it suitable for industrialization. For example, printing silver electrodes onto the film creates a sensor for scratch detection that restores quickly and effectively, which can be easily manufactured by existing polymer manufacturers. This material could also be used to increase the lifetime of automobiles or screens for smart devices.
This research is featured on the front page of Advance Materials, a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering materials science.