While many of us may primarily see paint as a cosmetic product, it can be critical to a material's long life. One example would be the steel hulls of Navy ships, which are constantly exposed to harsh elements, including sea water. Since 2008, researchers at the Office of Naval Research and John Hopkins University have been working on an additive to allow paint to heal itself, and extend its protection.
The researchers are working with polyfibroblast, which is a powder made of microscopic polymer spheres. When the spheres are broken, a resin is released and that will form a water-repellant coat over any exposed steal. This is not the first self-healing paint, but unlike those that exist now, it is being designed for tactical vehicles, and not with aesthetics in mind. It has already been tested in a laboratory setting and successfully prevented rusting for six weeks in a salt fog.
Every year the Department of the Navy spends roughly $7 billion dealing corrosion, and the hope is that adding polyfibroblast to the primer could make significant cuts into that. It could also be used to extend the life of a deployed vehicle in the field.
Source: Office of Naval Research