Self-repairing cars? New car coating repairs scratches in 30 minutes using sunlight

A clear protective coating material that can cure itself in 30 minutes when exposed to sunlight may just be the solution to car scratches, scientists say.

The South Korean team that developed this protective coating said it “self-heals” damaged surfaces using sunlight.

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Creating a colorless, transparent coating with a high level of durability has been a challenge for manufacturers so far, the research team of Dr. Jin Chul Kim, Dr. Young il Park and Dr. Ji- Eun Jeong from Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT) said in a press release. However, this new material would meet all of these needs and have similar performance to commercial protective coating materials.

To demonstrate its self-healing properties, the researchers coated a lab-scale model car using a spray coating machine. When the car model was exposed to the midday sun for half an hour, the scratches completely disappeared, and the coating material was restored.

This is possible because when sunlight is absorbed by the material, the surface temperature increases as the light energy is converted into heat energy, resulting in the self-healing process which is achieved by repeating the dissociation and the recombination of chemical bonds in the polymer structure.

The team added a dynamic chemical bond, known as a hindered urea structure, to the existing commercial coating resin so that it repeats the breakdown and recombination of the polymer structure. They also mixed it with a transparent photothermal dye to provide dynamic chemical bonding when exposed to sunlight.

“The technology developed is a platform technology that synthesizes self-healing coating materials using both inexpensive commercial polymeric materials and photothermal dyes. It is expected to be widely used not only in automotive varnishes but also in various applications,” said one of the researchers, Dr. Jin Chul Kim.

Although self-healing functions using photothermal dyes have been studied before, they mainly relied on inorganic materials that are difficult to apply industrially because the coating material must be transparent. Additionally, inorganic materials generally require a large amount of light energy to produce a photothermal effect.

In the future, the new self-healing material is expected to be used as a coating material for transportation applications, building materials, as well as electronic devices like smartphones.

The study was published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials.

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