A method creates thermally healable composites using carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotube microwave heating provides a pathway to overcome issues associated with electrical resistive heating networks. Carbon nanotubes embedded within a thermally reversible polymer can be heated by direct exposure to a microwave source. The heat generated by the nanotubes can drive the thermally reversible polymerization of the matrix. Because the microwave source can be focused, the composite can be locally heated at the point of damage thereby reducing the energy requirements for thermal healing. The carbon nanotubes can conform to any shape, allowing the manufacture of complex shapes without concern of damaging the heating network.
The extraordinary strength of the carbon nanotubes will withstand damage imposed by impaction, providing an unalterable heating mechanism. Risks of shocks or shorting are eliminated because no electrical current is required. Elimination of metal wiring will result in substantial mass savings and greater reliability because there is no concern for damage to the heater element. Because the carbon nanotubes are the source of heating, prepreg materials could be cured out of autoclave, resulting in more cost-effective manufacturing of large structures. Finally, the carbon nanotubes exhibit exceptional electrical and thermal properties that can lead to composite materials with multi-functional properties.