Revolutionary Metal Healing Technique Could Revolutionize Sustainability Efforts
"Electrochemical healing," a new technique developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. Using a simple electrolyte solution and a negative voltage, this method can restore metals' strength and toughness without the need for high-temperature welding or brazing. The potential for repairing a wide range of metals, including those difficult to repair in the past, could lead to a significant reduction in waste and environmental impact.
A new technique that restores metals' strength and toughness has been developed by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. The method, called "electrochemical healing," uses electrolytes, which are saline water solutions that contain nickel ions, to heal fractures in metals under room-temperature conditions. The researchers found that the technique restored the mechanical strength of different metallic materials, including steel, aluminum alloys, and complex 3D printed structures. The process involves applying a negative voltage to the metal, which attracts ions towards the cracks, eventually reducing them to solid metal atoms that heal the fracture.
Metal repair has been a key aspect of many industries for thousands of years, but certain alloys have been known to be prone to cracking under extreme heat. This has led to an increasing number of metals being left as waste, causing economic and environmental issues. However, the "electrochemical healing" technique offers a sustainable and cost-effective solution that enables the full recovery of a metal's tensile strength, including "unweldable" aluminum alloys used in aerospace.
The research has significant implications for sustainability efforts since mining, refining, and processing structural metals commonly used in construction contribute around three billion tons of CO2-equivalent emissions. The ability to repair metals that were previously considered too difficult or expensive to repair offers the potential to mitigate some of the negative environmental impact.
The researchers hope to expand on their work with 3D-printed structures by designing and fabricating components that take repair needs into account to ensure effective recovery of strength is more easily facilitated. They also aim to investigate methods of autonomous repair and reducing costs with alternative electrodeposited metals.
The study was funded by the TMS Foundation, the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation. The researchers published their findings in the journal Advanced Materials.