This inheritance of unknown and therefore unpredictable properties has prevented plastic from becoming what many consider the Holy Grail of recycling: a “circular” material whose original monomers can be recovered for reuse for as long as possible, or “upcycled” to make a new, higher quality product.
So, when a reusable shopping bag made with recycled plastic gets threadbare with wear and tear, it can’t be upcycled or even recycled to make a new product. And once the bag has reached its end of life, it’s either incinerated to make heat, electricity, or fuel, or ends up in a landfill, Helms said.
“Circular plastics and plastics upcycling are grand challenges,” he said. “We’ve already seen the impact of plastic waste leaking into our aquatic ecosystems, and this trend is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing amounts of plastics being manufactured and the downstream pressure it places on our municipal recycling infrastructure.”
Recycling plastic one monomer at a time
The researchers want to divert plastics from landfills and the oceans by incentivizing the recovery and reuse of plastics, which could be possible with polymers formed from PDKs. “With PDKs, the immutable bonds of conventional plastics are replaced with reversible bonds that allow the plastic to be recycled more effectively,” Helms said.
Unlike conventional plastics, the monomers of PDK plastic could be recovered and freed from any compounded additives simply by dunking the material in a highly acidic solution. The acid helps to break the bonds between the monomers and separate them from the chemical additives that give plastic its look and feel.
“We’re interested in the chemistry that redirects plastic lifecycles from linear to circular,” said Helms. “We see an opportunity to make a difference for where there are no recycling options.” That includes adhesives, phone cases, watch bands, shoes, computer cables, and hard thermosets that are created by molding hot plastic material.
The researchers first discovered the exciting circular property of PDK-based plastics when Christensen was applying various acids to glassware used to make PDK adhesives, and noticed that the adhesive’s composition had changed. Curious as to how the adhesive might have been transformed, Christensen analyzed the sample’s molecular structure with an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy instrument. “To our surprise, they were the original monomers,” Helms said.
After testing various formulations at the Molecular Foundry, they demonstrated that not only does acid break down PDK polymers into monomers, but the process also allows the monomers to be separated from entwined additives.
Next, they proved that the recovered PDK monomers can be remade into polymers, and those recycled polymers can form new plastic materials without inheriting the color or other features of the original material – so that broken black watchband you tossed in the trash could find new life as a computer keyboard if it’s made with PDK plastic. They could also upcycle the plastic by adding additional features, such as flexibility.
Moving toward a circular plastic future
The researchers believe that their new recyclable plastic could be a good alternative to many nonrecyclable plastics in use today.
“We’re at a critical point where we need to think about the infrastructure needed to modernize recycling facilities for future waste sorting and processing,” said Helms. “If these facilities were designed to recycle or upcycle PDK and related plastics, then we would be able to more effectively divert plastic from landfills and the oceans. This is an exciting time to start thinking about how to design both materials and recycling facilities to enable circular plastics,” said Helms.
The researchers next plan to develop PDK plastics with a wide range of thermal and mechanical properties for applications as diverse as textiles, 3D printing, and foams. In addition, they are looking to expand the formulations by incorporating plant-based materials and other sustainable sources.
The Molecular Foundry is a DOE Office of Science User Facility that specializes in nanoscale science.
This work was supported by the DOE’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program with additional funding provided by the DOE Office of Science through the SULI program.
The technology is available for licensing and collaboration. If interested, please contact Berkeley Lab’s Intellectual Property Office, [email protected].
The Latest on: Next-generation plastic
via Google News
The Latest on: Next-generation plastic
- KIER raised possibilities for urban use of ultralight flexible CIGS thin film solar cellon February 27, 2020 at 6:22 am
CIGS thin film solar cell: A kind of next-generation thin-film solar cell that has Cu(In,Ga)Se2-based compound materials. The CIGS-based solar cells can be fabricated on glass or (flexible) plastic ...
- DSM to expand Indiana compounding planton February 26, 2020 at 6:07 am
With the investment, DSM will enhance the site to produce the next generation of advanced materials ... Minger Kunststofftechnik AG and Minger Plastic AG… Avantium sells its bioaromatics portfolio ...
- Integra LifeSciences Launches AmnioExcel® Plus Placental Allograft Membraneon February 25, 2020 at 1:17 pm
PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 24, 2020 -- Integra LifeSciences Holding Corporation (Nasdaq:IART), a leading global medical technology company, today announced the launch of AmnioExcel®.
- This aluminum water bottle is a reusable alternative to single-use plasticon February 25, 2020 at 10:22 am
The company has launched the PATHWATER Student Ambassador Program (PSA) to inspire and educate youth. The BAN Single-Use Plastic Bottles at Schools initiative also inspires the next generation to ...
- The restaurant kitchens that are going plastic-freeon February 24, 2020 at 11:38 pm
Likewise, it's the next generation that galvanises Robertson. "For all of our younger chefs coming through, it's a priority for them," he says. On a recent trip to Buenos Aires, he noticed that many ...
- Next Generation iPad App for Food and Beverage Professionals Takes Menus Digital in Under an Hour with Social Network Integrationon February 18, 2020 at 2:34 pm
NAPLES, FL / ACCESSWIRE / February 18, 2020 / Uptown Network today released the next generation of F&B Easy Menu, an iPad app that empowers food and beverage professionals to easily transform paper ...
- Plastic batteries that won't catch fire set for mass productionon February 18, 2020 at 12:56 pm
Replacing metal with plastic in such key components as cathodes and anodes has been hailed as the next generation of lithium-ion battery technology. A number of companies have reported progress in ...
- Darlington Lions Club donate books on ocean plastic to schoolson February 17, 2020 at 3:28 pm
AN organisation dedicated to empowering people to do more in the community has donated books tackling ocean plastic to schools. Darlington Lions Club, a local branch of the Lions Club organisation, ...
- Green turtle's death led to a $2.5 million grant to help rid the ocean of plasticon February 16, 2020 at 6:42 pm
Plastic Collective and its project partners have received the Australian Government ... "We cover the 'triple bottom line', as the business world says; it's economically viable, it produces social ...
- Mum launches plastic free, eco-friendly playgroup - and is 'overwhelmed' by responseon February 14, 2020 at 9:30 pm
"The plastic used in classes are either recycled ... the environment and how we impact upon it. We are raising the next generation of earth protectors." Classes can be booked in terms for around ...
via Bing News