It’s a hard task to detect the amount of internal damage FRP composites receive on a regular basis and it’s even harder to repair those damages. Researchers in the Beckman Institute’s Autonomous Materials Systems (AMS) Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led by professors Nancy Sottos, Scott White, and Jeff Moore, believe they’ve found a solution to this problem.

A self-healing 3D vascular system that allows the FRP composite materials to heal autonomously and repeatedly could be the answer. The system is made up of patterns of microchannels filled with healing chemistries that will thread through the FRP composite, applying two liquid healing agents.

“The beauty of this self-healing approach is, we don’t have to probe the structure and say, this is where the damage occurred and then repair it ourselves,” said Jason Patrick, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering and lead author.

Since composites are used in many aerospace and automotive applications, this self-healing system has the ability to correct a long-standing issue of delamination – separation of layers – and extend the lifetime of any composite material.

“Additionally, creating the vasculature integrates seamlessly with typical manufacturing processes of polymer composites, making it a strong candidate for commercial use,” said Nancy Sottos, materials science and engineering professor and co-corresponding author.