Researchers have discovered a new polymer that could potentially solve the problem our planet has with plastic.
A team of researchers from Colorado State University discovered a new polymer that contains similar characteristics to plastic. These characteristics include heat resistance, light weight, strength, and durability.
What’s even better is that the newly found material could return to its original small-molecular state. This means that unlike plastics, this material has a complete chemical recyclability.
The new polymer is built from a former generation of recyclable chemical polymers that were first demonstrated in 2015 by Eugene Chen and his team. The old version of the polymer reportedly requires extremely cold condition and has limited industrial potential. Aside from that, the material has low molecular weight and resistance to heat. It was also softer than plastic.
However, the first study conducted by Chen was used to create a new design principle that could be used in developing the new generation polymers. Not only that, the product has robust, practical properties and is chemically recyclable.
The improved version of the polymer has a higher molecular weight, thermal stability and crystallinity, and mechanical properties that could perform like plastic. And, most importantly of all, the new material can be re-polymerized without the need for further purification.
This establishes what the researchers referred to as the circular materials life cycle.
“The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely,” Chen said.
The innovation has Chen and his team excited about a future where new, green plastics could just be placed in a reactor and be depolymerized. When returned to its original chemical composition, you can recycle the polymer over and over again.
However, the team has only tested the new polymer on an academic lab scale. Chen stresses that there is still so much work to be done “to perfect the patent-pending monomer and polymer production processes” he and his colleagues created.
The researchers published a paper on their study in the journal Science Mag.