Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Scratch on Your Car May Become Just a Day at the Beach

carCrabs, shrimp and plenty of sunshine. Sounds like the wonderful trip to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware I enjoyed last summer. Either that or a new plastic coating that heals its own scratches.

According to a research paper in the current issue of Science magazine, two scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Polymers and High Performance Materials have developed a polyurethane coating using chitosan — a substance found in the shells of crabs and shrimp — that repairs itself when activated by sunlight. As described in this Reuter’s article, when a scratch damages the chemical structure of the coating, the chitosan responds to sunlight by forming chemical chains that begin bonding with other materials in the substance, eventually smoothing the scratch.

Apparently the process takes less than an hour. (Which is about how long I last in the sun, too.) The only drawback? The thermosetting polymer can only repair itself in the same spot once. But how likely is it that you would suffer a scratch in precisely the same surface space twice?

In a podcast interview, senior author Marek Urban said the new chitosan-based coating could be used on cars and other vehicles, packaging or furniture. He believes this new coating’s readily available materials give it an economic advantage over existing self-repairing coatings. “We are not in the manufacturing business, so one would have to sit down and really do the math and calculate exact cost of the production, but…really the main difference, in terms of the cost of the existing material versus this, would be essentially the synthesis of chitosan modified with oxetane. So, the cost is not really that great. And again, quantities are relatively small.”

As you might expect, patents are pending. So, the next time you pull your car a little too quickly into a tight parking spot or branches fall on it, remember — a solution is on the way. Courtesy of crabs, shrimp, sunlight and plastics.

One Response to “Scratch on Your Car May Become Just a Day at the Beach”

  1. What a great idea! Sign me up to purchase the first can of self-healing paint.

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