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Self-cleaning cars on the way

Scratching the surface: A new coating could result in cars that repel dirt and require just an occasional rain shower to become fully clean.

Washing cars could be history as researchers develop a dirt-repelling paint coating

General News logo25 Jul 2012

DUTCH researchers have developed a self-repairing coating that could also be used to eliminate the need to wash cars or remove fingerprints from touchscreens – and the technology could be ready for production within six to eight years.

The team behind the coating, which was developed at the Eindhoven University of Technology, says it could be used to create a self-cleaning car that requires only the “occasional rain shower” to remove dirt.

As the coating is highly water-resistant, water droplets “simply roll off the car, taking dirt with them”.

It is a significant move forward from the self-healing paint introduced by Japanese luxury brands Infiniti and Lexus in recent years, the former having been used earlier this year on a Nissan promotional self-healing iPhone cover.

The coating is designed to eliminate pitfalls that limit the application of existing ‘functional coatings’ that use nano-sized groups of molecules to provide water resistance or antibacterial properties but are easily damaged through contact or scratching.

Researchers, led by Catarina Esteves of the university’s department of chemical engineering and chemistry, created surfaces consisting of special ‘stalks’ that carry the functional molecules and are mixed through the coating.

If the outer layer of the surface is scratched, the stalks can orient themselves to the new surface, restoring it to the original form.

In addition to self-cleaning cars, the coating could be used to keep aircraft clean to maintain optimum aerodynamics and require less frequent repainting.

Other uses include algae-resistant paint for ships, self-repairing contact lenses and self-cleaning solar panels.

However, as is the case with most existing self-repairing coatings, it only resists superficial damage, such as light scuffs and scratches from car washes, dust storms and fingernails, not where the surface is completely penetrated.

Ms Esteves and her team intend to further develop the technology with other universities and industrial partners, aiming to reach production with a product that can be commercialised at prices comparable with coatings already on the market.

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