A team from the University of Texas’ Cockrell School of Engineering is looking at the expansion of batteries during the charge phase, an event which eventually damages the electrodes, and applying self-healing plastic material advances to overcome the problem. The gel has potential applications in flexible electronics and next-generation batteries.

View of material cracking then healing itself.View of material cracking then healing itself.The researchers created a gel comprised of a conducting polymer gel and a supramolecular gel to achieve the electronic conducting properties needed in a self-healing material. The hybrid material incorporates zinc ions and terpryidine in the supramolecular gel. This eliminates the need for external pressure or heat to stimulate the healing process in the gel. One challenge was finding the optimal method to synthesize and combine them.

The researchers have tested the material on battery junction points, which are the most commonly broken part. Within minutes, the supramolecular components of the gel reform allowing electrical flow to continue without a change to the mechanical properties of the gel.

The team’s inspiration was human skin, which typically heals itself in a few days. Building on that, the researchers envision the gel being used in applications like flexible electronics that overcome the need to use brittle silicon as a semiconductor. The self-healing properties could also work in applications like robotics, where failure in wiring systems can be difficult and costly to repair.

The team also aims to improve the time it takes to synthesize the gel, which currently takes a few weeks. While they haven’t analyzed cost and implementation for consumer markets, the researchers say they believe the material will have implications for the electronics field. Because it is self-healing, the potential for devices to last longer makes them much more cost-effective. Currently, the research team is looking at developing a subconscious interface that prompts the movement of prosthetic limbs when stimulated.

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