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Nanotech Paint Devised to Monitor for Structural Damage

David McGahon applying sensors to "smart painted" surface (University of Strathclyde)

David McGahon taking test measurements of "smart painted" surface (University of Strathclyde)

Researcher engineers at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, U.K. have developed a type of paint that can help detect early signs of structural damage in bridges or buildings. Because this “smart paint” can be applied like any other paint and requires little maintenance, it costs a small fraction of traditional instrument-based sensors.

Strathclyde civil engineering professor Mohamed Saafi and graduate student David McGahon (pictured right) developed the material using a recycled waste product known as fly ash and highly aligned carbon nanotubes. When mixed, the substance has a cement-like property which makes it particularly useful in harsh environments, such as those encountered by wind energy turbines.

Saafi explains that the paint is devised to operate with wireless sensor networks. “The paint is interfaced with wireless communication nodes with power harvesting and warning capability,” says Saafi, “to remotely detect any unseen damage such as micro-cracks in a wind turbine concrete foundation.”

The cost savings of the paint can be substantial. With fly ash being the main material used to make the paint, say the developers, it costs just one percent of the alternative widely used inspection methods. “The process of producing and applying the paint,” notes Saafi, “also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward.”

“Current technology is restricted to looking at specific areas of a structure at any given time,” Saafi adds, “however, smart paint covers the whole structure which is particularly useful to maximize the opportunity of preventing significant damage.”

Saafi and McGahon have developed a prototype, and they report early tests have shown the paint to be  effective. They plan to carry out further tests in Glascow.

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