A material designed by a team of chemical engineers can react with carbon dioxide to grow, strengthen, and repair itself. The material continuously converts the greenhouse gas into a carbon-based material that reinforces itself.
The current version of the new material is a 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 used in these proof-of-concept experiments did make use of one biological component — chloroplasts, the components within plant cells that harness light. In ongoing and future work, the chloroplast is being replaced by catalysts that are non-biological in origin.
One key advantage of such material is that it would be self-repairing upon exposure to sunlight or some indoor lighting. If the surface is scratched or cracked, the area grows to repair the damage.
There has been widespread effort to develop self-healing materials, but they have required outside input. These new materials need nothing but ambient light, and they incorporate mass from carbon in the atmosphere, which is ubiquitous.
This work suggests that carbon dioxide need not be purely a burden and a cost. The abundant carbon all around us is a significant opportunity for science to make more carbon negative materials.
The findings are described in the journal Advanced Materials, by Professor Michael Strano, postdoc Seon-Yeong Kwak, Juan Pablo Giraldo and Tedrick Lew, Min Hao Wong, Pingwei Liu, Yun Jung Yang, Volodomyr Koman, Melissa McGee and Bradley Olsen.