Working with Professor Ian Bond and Dr Richard Trask from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Professor Duncan Wass and his team have been developing the technology for the past three years.
The research presented at a Royal Society meeting in London last week, is being billed as an important step in an emerging field, University of Bristol reports.
The team started working on a solution on the back of an envelope, but has since developed into a useable technology. It involves adding tiny, hollow microspheres to the carbon material – so small that they look like a powder to the human eye – which break on impact, releasing a liquid healing agent.
The agent seeps into the cracks left by the damage before coming into contact with a catalyst, triggering a rapid chemical reaction, which causes it to harden.
Professor Wass said he expected self-healing products to reach consumers in the very near future. His team specialises in modifying carbon fibre composite materials, the strong but lightweight substances used increasingly widely in the manufacture of everything from commercial aircraft wings to sports racquets and high-performance bicycles.
The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s UK Catalysis Hub, a collaborative project between universities and the industry.