Scientists at MIT have invented a new material that is able to react with the carbon dioxide in the air to heal itself from damage. The material is a polymer that might be used for construction, a repair material, or for protective coatings. MIT’s intention can continuously convert the greenhouse gas into a carbon-based material that reinforces itself.
In its current iteration, the synthetic material is a gel-like substance that uses a chemical process like plants use to incorporate carbon dioxide from the air into growing tissues. One usage scenario the scientists see for the material would be making it into lightweight matrix panels that could be shipped to a construction site where they could harden and solidify from exposure to air and sunlight. This could reduce transportation costs and save on energy according to MIT.
The researchers call this a “completely new concept in materials science.” This synthetic material avoids any fossil fuels in its creation and consumes carbon dioxide from the air bringing benefits for the environment and climate. In proof-of-concept experiments, the team used a biological component of plants- chloroplasts. Chloroplast is the light-harnessing components of plant cells and in the experiment, the chloroplasts were harvested from spinach leaves.
The material doesn’t use living chloroplasts, but the chloroplast uses is able to catalyze the reaction of carbon dioxide to glucose. The team does plan to replace the biological materials with some that are nonbiological in origin in future work. The current gel matrix is composed of a polymer made from aminopropyl methacrylamide and glucose along with an enzyme called oxidase and chloroplasts. The material isn’t strong enough to be used as a building material yet.
In its current form, the material could be used as a crack filling or coating material. The material could be produced by the ton and the team is working on optimizing properties right now. The key property of this material is its ability to grow and self-heal from damage.