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Repairing fractured metals to extend their useful lifetimes advances sustainability and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions from metal mining and processing. While high-temperature techniques have long been used to repair metals, the increasing ubiquity of digital manufacturing and “unweldable” alloys, as well as the integration of metals with polymers and electronics, call for radically different repair approaches. This research presents a framework for effective room temperature healing of fractured metals using area-selective nickel electrodeposition with a single commonly-used electrolyte chemistry. Based on a theoretical model that links geometric, mechanical, and electrochemical parameters to the recovery of tensile strength, this framework enables 100 % recovery of tensile strength in nickel, low-carbon steel, two “unweldable” aluminum alloys, and a 3D-printed difficult-to-weld shellular structure. Through a distinct energy dissipation mechanism, this framework also enables up to 136 % recovery of toughness in an aluminum alloy. To facilitate practical adoption, this work reveals scaling laws for the energetic, financial, and time costs of healing, and demonstrates the restoration of strength and functionality in a fractured standard steel wrench. Empowered with this framework, room-temperature electrochemical healing could open exciting possibilities for the effective, scalable repair of metals in diverse applications.
We thank Jeremy Wang for waterjet cutting, Jason Pastor and Peter Szczesniak for the fabrication of tension grips, Yichao Shi for assistance with photography, and Alissa Johnson for assistance with XRD. We thank Gnana Saurya Vankayalapati and Prof. Kevin Turner for graciously providing access to a mechanical testing tool used for some preliminary testing, and Xiaoheng Zhu, Chengyang Mo, and Prof. Jordan Raney for providing access to an Instron 68SC-5 mechanical testing tool. This work was performed in part at the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, a node in the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) network, which is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant NNCI-1542153. J.H.P acknowledges funding from the TMS Foundation (Early Career Faculty Fellow Award) and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (grant no. FA9550-22-1-0095). M. Akbarzadeh acknowledges funding from the National Science Foundation through a CAREER Award (CAREER-1944691-CMMI) and a Future Eco Manufacturing Research Grant (FMRG-CMMI 2037097).
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