The scientists have created a next-generation plastic that can be fully recycled into new materials of any colour, shape, or form, without loss of performance or quality. The discovery has been reported in the Journal Nature Chemistry.
Name: Poly(Diketoenamine), or PDK.
Features: This next-generation plastic can be fully recycled into new materials of any colour, shape, or form, without loss of performance or quality. This recyclable plastic can be disassembled into its constituent parts at the molecular level.
Developed by: A team of researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Problem with conventional Plastics:
All conventional plastics are made up of large molecules called polymers, which are composed of repeating units of shorter carbon-containing compounds called monomers.
However, the problem with them is that the chemicals added to make them useful (tough yet flexible) are tightly bound to the monomers and stay in the plastic even after it is been processed at a recycling plant.
Process involved in PDK Plastics:
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.
Not only does the acid break down PDK polymers into monomers, but the process also allows the monomers to be separated from entwined chemical additives that give plastic its look and feel.
Way ahead: The researchers next plan to develop PDK plastics with a range of thermal and mechanical properties for applications including textiles, 3D printing, and foams. They are also looking to expand the formulations by incorporating plant-based materials and other sustainable sources.