Chemical engineers at MIT have developed a material that can react with the carbon dioxide from the air in order to grow, strengthen or repair itself.
The substance is a combination of a gel-like polymer with chloroplasts (the same cell elements that handle photosynthesis in plants) that grows by plucking out the carbon from the air after exposure to light. If a solidified piece of this material would be cracked or scratched, it would heal without requiring heat or light or any other special reactions.
“Imagine a synthetic material that could grow like trees, taking the carbon from the carbon dioxide and incorporating it into the material’s backbone,”
– Michael Strano, Professor of Chemical Engineering
It’s not the first time scientists have isolated chloroplasts but they stopped working a few hours after removal from plants. Since then, the team has been working on extending their lifespan bit by bit.
That’s not the only good news: developing the material avoids the use of fossil fuels so it’s not dangerous to either the climate or the environment.
The team continues to work on chloroplasts that will have artificial catalysts which will be able to deliver the same self-regenerating process. As far as the applications of this material, they’re by the thousands – we could even use it as a building material where builders would ship it in liquid form and make the panels needed on-site.
Because it has opened up such a wide range of follow-up research, at the moment the project is being funded by the U.S Department of Energy in order to develop the program further.