Self-Healing Material Pulls Carbon Out Of The Air

A self-healing material designed at MIT by chemical engineers reacts with CO2 from the air, to grow, strengthen, and even repair itself. The polymer might someday be used as construction or repair material or for protective coatings.

The current version of the new material is a synthetic gel-like substance that performs a chemical process similar to the way plants incorporate carbon dioxide from the air into their growing tissues. The material might, for example, be made into panels of a lightweight matrix that could be shipped to a construction site, where they would harden and solidify just from exposure to air and sunlight, thereby saving on the energy and cost of transportation.

“This is a completely new concept in materials science,” says Strano, the Carbon C. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering. “What we call carbon-fixing materials don’t exist yet today” outside of the biological realm, he says, describing materials that can transform carbon dioxide in the ambient air into a solid, stable form, using only the power of sunlight, just as plants do.

Developing a synthetic material that not only avoids the use of fossil fuels for its creation, but actually consumes carbon dioxide from the air, has obvious benefits for the environment and climate, the researchers point out. “Imagine a synthetic material that could grow like trees, taking the carbon from the carbon dioxide and incorporating it into the material’s backbone,” Strano says.

(Via MIT News)

As far as I know, the earliest reference to this idea in science fiction is from the 1951 story: Asteroid of Fear, by sf great Raymond Z. Gallun. Consider this unique plastic that can repair itself:

But the wide roof was all the way up, now—intact. It made a great, squarish bubble, the skin of which [a 'transparent, wire-strengthened plastic '] was specially treated to stop the hard and dangerous part of the ultra-violet rays of the sun, and also the lethal portion of the cosmic rays. It even had an inter-skin layer of gum that could seal the punctures that grain-of-sand-sized meteors might make.
(Read more about self-healing plastic)

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