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Polymeric microcapsules with switchable mechanical properties for self-healing concrete: synthesis, characterisation and proof of concept

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Kanellopoulos, A 
Giannaros, P 
Palmer, D 
Kerr, A 
Al-Tabbaa, A 


Microcapsules, with sodium silicate solution as core, were produced using complex coacervation in a double, oil-in-water-in oil, emulsion system. The shell material was a gelatin–acacia gum crosslinked coacervate and the produced microcapsules had diameters ranging from 300 to 700 μm. The shell material designed with switchable mechanical properties. When it is hydrated exhibits soft and ‘rubbery’ behaviour and, when dried, transitions to a stiff and ‘glassy’ material. The microcapsules survived drying and rehydrating cycles and preserved their structural integrity when exposed to highly alkaline solutions that mimic the pH environment of concrete. Microscopy revealed that the shell thickness of the microcapsules varies across their perimeter from 5 to 20 μm. Thermal analysis showed that the produced microcapsules were very stable up to 190 °C. Proof of concept investigation has demonstrated that the microcapsules successfully survive and function when exposed to a cement-based matrix. Observations showed that the microcapsules survive mixing with cement and rupture successfully upon crack formation releasing the encapsulated sodium silicate solution.



self-healing, microencapsulation, concrete, sodium silicate, microcapsules, construction materials, cement

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Smart Materials and Structures

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Institute of Physics Publishing
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/K026631/1)
Financial support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC—United Kingdom) for this study (Project Ref. EP/K026631/1—‘Materials for Life’) is gratefully acknowledged.
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