Now there’s a rubber that can repair itself
A piece of conventional rubber is made up of flexible macromolecular networks, composed of molecules fastened together in chains, making it expandable. When rubber is cut or broken the chemical welds known as covalent bonds are also snapped. The rubber remains broken, it cannot be rejoined or remoulded.
Now a research team at the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution (ESPCI) in Paris lead by physicist Dr. Ludwik Leibler has created an artificial rubber, which can spontaneously repair itself in ambient conditions.
The team replaced the covalent bonds in the material with weaker hydrogen bonds. The result is an amazing substance that stays solid yet is able to repair itself if punctured or broken.
Experiments have shown how pieces that have been cut and separated, once placed back together will reconnect, entirely of their own volition, within a few hours without the need for applied pressure or any change in temperature. The substance can then be stretched, as it could previously, by up to six times its resting length without any sign of weakness.
Additionally – when temperature is increased to 130˚- 150˚C it can be reshaped.
The artificial rubber is sustainable, made of low cost vegetable oil and a by-product of urine.
A key property of the new material is that it stays non-adhesive on its surface – as only recently cut, damaged or punctured parts will grip and self repair.
Initial commercial ideas for how to use this exciting new rubber are for compression joints, pipe seals, pavement, even toys. In reality potential applications for this still to be named smart rubber seem endless.