Dr Catarina Esteves and her colleagues at the Netherlands' Eindhoven University of Technology Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, have developed a way of allowing a 'functional coating' – a surface with nano-sized molecular groups that provide specific properties – to be applied without the limitation of being irreversibly damaged by minor contact, such as scratching.
This has been achieved by engineering surfaces with special 'stalks' that carry the functional chemical groups at their ends, and mixed them through the coating. The result: when the outer surface layer is removed, by scratching for example, the 'stalks' in the underlying layer re-orient to the new surface, thereby restoring the function of the coating to its original form, effectively providing a surface that repairs itself.
The team says the technology would make it possible to have a self-cleaning car, with a highly water-resistant coating that keeps its self-cleaning property for long periods of time.
Superficial scratches would be self-repaired and water droplets would simply roll off the car, taking surface dirt with them. According to a release, “An occasional rain shower is all that's needed to keep the car clean."
The team believes the developed coating could have many applications including for use on mobile phones, solar panels, contact lenses, even aircraft and ships.
The new technology isn't impervious, however, it only works with superficial scratches that do not completely penetrate the coating.
Dr Esteves expects the first coatings to be ready for production within six to eight years.