Metal Healing | Y-Prize Competition 2019-2020

Published by Jan Heaney on

Metal Healing | Y-Prize Competition 2019-2020

Repairing metals for industrial or everyday use typically requires heating them to a melting point, but thanks to new research from Penn, there is now a method to repair them at room temperature. We use metal everywhere. We use it in vehicles, we use it in buildings. It’s pervasive in our technology and in our
infrastructure. But if we think about it, what happens when it breaks? The way we do it today is we heat these metals up and we melt them back up to their melting temperature, but this is really energy intensive. And so, if we can invent new ways to heal
metal parts, it can reduce the amount of energy that’s required to repair, and it provides
new opportunities for more sophisticated, more autonomous systems. The metal healing technology that we invented
has a really high energy saving and a big part of that energy saving is that we can
heal these metals parts at room temperature. Six orders of magnitude, 10^6 times less energy
as some other comparable technologies. The idea initially was the inspiration from
bone. It has pores inside of it, so we made metal
in a porous form. The other idea is that instead of using blood,
now we use electrolyte. We’ve developed a polymer coating that we
can put on top of this metal so that when we crack it, we see exposed metal. It signals to this process that this is where
you want to heal the bone. So now what we’ve done is we’ve created a
metal bridge between these two fractured struts and it acts as if it was one, new, continuous
strut. I think there are two major ways we could
use this technology. Let’s say you break a part. You can then remove that part and very quickly
put it into a bath of electrolyte and re-heal that part within a couple hours. Another possible use would involve embedding
the electrolyte into the metal parts themselves, so that an autonomous robot could heal its
own broken parts without any human intervention, enabling it to travel into remote locations. Mars rovers for example, you can’t have humans
in that environment. If you had a robot that could autonomously
heal its arm, instead of being functional for two-year years, can be there for twenty
years. Putting these technologies into the Y-Prize
environment, it opens up the access to a lot of ideas, a lot of creativity from the student
body that allow us to basically address some of these problems, and come up with new ways
to really, I think, ultimately make an impact.

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