Micromechanical properties of a new polymeric microcapsule for self-healing cementitious materials

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Self-healing cementitious materials containing a microencapsulated healing agent are appealing due to their great application potential in improving the serviceability and durability of concrete structures. In this study, poly(phenol-formaldehyde) (PF) microcapsules that aim to provide a self-healing function for cementitious materials were prepared by an in situ polymerization reaction. Size gradation of the synthesized microcapsules was achieved through a series of sieving processes. The shell thickness and the diameter of single microcapsules was accurately measured under environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM). The relationship between the physical properties of the synthesized microcapsules and their micromechanical properties were investigated using nanoindentation. The results of the mechanical tests show that, with the increase of the mean size of microcapsules and the decrease of shell thickness, the mechanical force required to trigger the self-healing function of microcapsules increased correspondingly from 68.5 ± 41.6 mN to 198.5 ± 31.6 mN, featuring a multi-sensitive trigger function. Finally, the rupture behavior and crack surface of cement paste with embedded microcapsules were observed and analyzed using X-ray computed tomography (XCT). The synthesized PF microcapsules may find potential application in self-healing cementitious materials.