A research team at the University of Bristol in the UK has successfully tested new technology that could be used to develop “self-healing” airplane surfaces, according to the BBC. The technology comprises tiny microspheres that contain a liquid, carbon-based “healing agent.” The spheres could be interspersed in the surface structure, and when they are damaged they release the liquid, which hardens when it comes into contact with a catalyst that is part of the wing material. “We’re talking about tiny cracks,” noted chemistry professor Duncan Wass, whose lab developed the product. “Not a one-meter-wide hole. But micro-cracks can lead to catastrophic failures.”
The technology could be used in any product that’s constructed from carbon composite materials, Wass said. “Composite materials are increasingly used in modern airliners, military aircraft and wind turbines,” Wass said. “They are very stiff and strong but very light. That’s perfect for aerospace … but the problem is, if they are damaged, they are difficult to protect and repair. Our technology would enable you to maybe extend the maintenance schedule or use less material without compromising safety.” The microspheres could be introduced to commercial products within five to 10 years, the researchers said.