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The world fell in love with plastics because they're cheap, convenient, lightweight and long- lasting. For these same reasons, plastics are now trashing the Earth.
Colorado State University chemists have announced in the journal Science another major step toward waste-free, sustainable materials that could one day compete with conventional plastics. Led by Eugene Chen, professor in the Department of Chemistry, they have discovered a polymer with many of the same characteristics we enjoy in plastics, such as light weight, heat resistance, strength and durability. But the new polymer, unlike typical petroleum plastics, can be converted back to its original small-molecule state for complete chemical recyclability. This can be accomplished without the use of toxic chemicals or intensive lab procedures.
Polymers - Class - Materials - Chains - Units
Polymers are a broad class of materials characterized by long chains of chemically bonded, repeating molecular units called monomers. Synthetic polymers today include plastics, as well as fibers, ceramics, rubbers, coatings, and many other commercial products.
The work builds on a previous generation of a chemically recyclable polymer Chen's lab first demonstrated in 2015. Making the old version required extremely cold conditions that would have limited its industrial potential. The previous polymer also had low heat resistance and molecular weight, and, while plastic-like, was relatively soft.
Knowledge - Study - Chen - Design - Principle
But the fundamental knowledge gained from that study was invaluable, Chen said. It led to a design principle for developing future-generation polymers that not only are chemically recyclable, but also exhibit robust practical properties.
The new, much-improved polymer structure resolves the issues of the first-generation material. The monomer can be conveniently polymerized under environmentally friendly, industrially realistic conditions: solvent-free, at room temperature, with just a few minutes of reaction time and only...
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