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Scientist develop chemically recyclable polymers with good thermal stability
Source:Adsale Plastics Network    Editor:JK    Date:20.Aug.2021

Plastics sustainability has come a long way in recent years thanks in large part to scientific advances. But even as plastics become more and more environmentally friendly, the world continues to be polluted as many industries rely on them for their widely used products.

 

The latest research from Dr. Junpeng Wang, assistant professor in School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering in the University of Akron (UA), has a solution to reduce such waste and clear a scientific pathway for a more sustainable future that can applied for the rubber, tire, automobile and electronics industries.

 

The problem at hand is synthetic polymers, including rubber and plastics, are used in nearly every aspect of daily life. The dominance of synthetic polymers is largely driven by their very good stability and versatile mechanical properties. However, due to their high durability, waste materials composed of these polymers have accumulated in the land and oceans, causing serious concerns for the ecosystem.

 

In addition, since over 90% of these polymers are derived from finite natural resources, such as petroleum and coal, the production of these materials is unsustainable if they cannot be recycled and reused.

 

A promising solution to address the challenges in plastics sustainability is to replace current polymers with recyclable ones in order to achieve a circular use of materials. Despite the progress made thus far, few recyclable polymers exhibit the good thermal stability and high-performance mechanical properties of traditional polymers.


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Dr. Junpeng Wang and his team has developed chemically recyclable polymers with good thermal stability and robust mechanical properties.


The recyclable materials developed by Dr. Junpeng Wang and his team are unique in the thermal stability and versatile mechanical properties. Their article explaining the research, “Olefin Metathesis–Based Chemically Recyclable Polymers Enabled by Fused-Ring Monomers,” was published by Nature Chemistry.

 

“We are particularly interested in chemically recyclable polymers that can be broken down into the constituents (monomers) from which they are made,” introduced Dr. Junpeng Wang. “The recycled monomers can be reused to produce the polymers, allowing for a circular use of materials, which not only helps to preserve the finite natural resources used in plastics production, but also addresses the issue of unwanted end-of-life accumulation of plastic objects.”

 

The key in the design of chemically recyclable polymers is to identify the right monomer. Through careful computational calculation, the researchers identified a targeting monomer. They then prepared the monomer and polymers through chemical synthesis, using abundantly available starting materials.

 

The research group, including polymer science graduate students and a postdoctoral scientist, aims to address those challenges by developing polymers that can be broken down into their constituent parts. When the catalyst for depolymerization is absent or removed, the polymers will be highly stable and their thermal and mechanical properties can be tuned to meet the needs of various applications.

 

“The chemically recyclable polymers we developed show excellent thermal stability and robust mechanical properties and can be used to prepare both rubber and plastics,” elaborated Dr. Junpeng Wang. “We expect this material to be an attractive candidate to replace current polymers. Our molecular design is guided by computation, highlighting the transformational power of integrating computation and experimental work.”

 

He added that, compared to other recyclable polymers that have been demonstrated, the new polymers show much better stability and more versatile mechanical properties. When a catalyst is added, the polymer can be degraded into the constituent monomer for recycling.

 

Next for the research team is to expand the scope of the chemically recyclable polymers and to develop carbon-fiber reinforced polymer composites. The team will also analyze the economic performance of this industrial process and life-cycle analysis for commercialization of the polymers.

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