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CSU Chemists Invent Biodegradable Polymer That’s 100% Recyclable

Plastic Spoon Picture
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Colorado State University chemists have reported a breakthrough discovery in recyclable polymers: a 100% recyclable, biodegradable polymer that’s not petroleum based.

The breakthrough, according to CSU’s Anne Ju Manning, could lead to plastics that are truly recyclable.

According to CSU professor of chemistry Eugene Chen, whose lab is responsible for the discovery, the average person consumers over 200 pounds of synthetic polymers on an annual basis, most of which “are not biorenewable,” so the present goal “is to produce biorenewable and biodegradable polymers or plastics.” But this is, according to Chen, only one aspect of the solution, “as biodegradable polymers are not necessarily recyclable, in terms of feedstock recycling.”

More than 200 pounds of synthetic polymers are consumed per person each year – plastics probably the most in terms of production volume. And most of these polymers are not biorenewable (…) The big drive now is to produce biorenewable and biodegradable polymers or plastics. That is, however, only one part of the solution, as biodegradable polymers are not necessarily recyclable, in terms of feedstock recycling.

The new polymer that Chen’s lab synthesized, which is detailed in the journal Nature Chemistry, is reportedly capable of reverting back to its original molecular state through the simple application of heat. In other words, by reheating the material, it can be converted back to its original state — making it completely recyclable.

As a result of their breakthrough, academics will have to amend textbooks and scientific literature covering the researchers’ starting monomer, Gamma-butyolactone (GBL), as the molecules have been described — at least, up until now — as too excited and thermally stable to polymerize while they’re in their monomeric chemical states. As Chen explained, he and his colleagues “suspected that some of the previous reports were probably incorrect.” Subsequently, they went ahead and used the monomer anyways.

Ignoring prior reports led not only to a new polymer, but a fully recyclable polymer that can be shaped by the conditions and catalysts selected.

Taking the notions of recycling, reusing and reducing to what could be the next level, NASA has found itself on the path to recycling human waste into food.

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