No living organism is better at healing wounds than plants. Researchers at the University of Freiburg have now succeeded in using the healing process of the woody climbing plant liana as a model to create self-healing membranes for technical materials in the laboratory.
The team of researchers led by biologist Dr. Olga Speck from the Competence Network Biomimetics developed a bionic coating which can quickly and efficiently repair pneumatic structures such as tires.
The project has received funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research since 2006 as part of the idea competition "Bionics -- Innovations from Nature." The interdisciplinary project team performing research on self-healing processes in nature and technology includes biologists from the Botanical Gardens of the University of Freiburg, chemists from the Freiburg Materials Research Center, and physicists and engineers from the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing EMPA in Dübendorf.
Self-repairing foams can drastically reduce the amount of air escaping from damaged membranes used in the Tensairity® technology, a lightweight inflatable supporting structure used in contemporary architecture. The research team succeeded in reducing the loss of air pressure in comparison to uncoated membranes and achieving a self-repairing effect with lacerations of up to five millimeters in diameter from nails. The team is currently developing the technology further in cooperation with Rampf Giessharze GmbH & Co. KG. Grafenberg, the company which produces the sealing foam for the research project, in order to prepare it for industrial use. In the future, event halls or bridges built using the Tensairity® technology could be equipped with the self-repairing foam. "Even air mattresses or inflatable rafts could profit from the lightweight constructions one day," says Dr. Olga Speck.
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