Self-healing superhydrophobic surfaces

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Water-repellent coatings are technological marvels and even though they are nothing new, most of them are too fragile to be applied, especially in harsh conditions.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, however, believe to have a new and effective solution that is “hundreds of times more durable than its counterparts”.  This new coating could enable waterproofing of vehicles, superyachts, clothing, rooftops and countless other surfaces.

This self-healing, water-repellent spray-on coating could also lower the resistance of ship hulls, reducing fuel consumption.  By lowering the water resistance, superyachts may also be able to slightly increase their speed as well.

The developers say the new concoction is a major breakthrough in a field where decades of research have failed to produce a durable coating.

“Thousands of superhydrophobic surfaces have been looked at over the past twenty or thirty years, but nobody has been able to figure out how to systematically design one that’s durable, I think that’s what we’ve really accomplished here, and it’s going to open the door for other researchers to create cheaper, perhaps even better superhydrophobic coatings.”  Explains Anish Tuteja, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at U-M.

The coating is made of a mix of  a material called “fluorinated polyurethane elastomer” and a specialized water-repellent molecule known as “F-POSS.” It can be easily sprayed onto virtually any surface and has a slightly rubbery texture that makes it more resilient than its predecessors.  If it is damaged, the coating can heal itself hundreds of times. It can bounce back even after being abraded, scratched, burned, plasma-cleaned, flattened, sonicated and chemically attacked.

Most water-repellent coatings work because their surface has a very specific geometry, often microscopic pillars. Water droplets perch on the tips of these pillars, creating air pockets underneath that deny the water a solid place to rest and cause it to roll off easily. But such surfaces tend to be fragile—slight abrasion or even the pressure of the water itself can damage them.  The researchers found that a surface that’s slightly pliable can escape this pitfall—even though it seems less durable, its pliable properties enable it to bounce back from damage.

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self-healing superhydrophobic surfaces

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