An infinitely recyclable polymer with the mechanical strength and thermal stability of common plastics is included in “Research of the Year” by Chemical and Engineering News.
The recyclable polymer, created by Eugene Chen and colleagues in Colorado State University’s Department of Chemistry, was detailed in the journal Science in April. Chen, a professor of chemistry, leads a lab that’s developing new materials and methods for waste-free, sustainable polymers.
As described in Science, Chen’s new polymer is made from a bicyclic lactone monomer at ambient temperature. It is thermally stable and crystalline, making it a candidate for competing with commodity plastics. By applying heat or a chemical treatment, the chemists showed they could recover the building blocks (monomers) of the material. This makes the polymer truly recyclable – unlike conventional petroleum plastics – and suited for endless repolymerizations. More recently, Chen’s lab also developed a more cost-effective route to the monomer from renewable resources.
“Solving the increasingly worsening worldwide plastics pollution problem takes a whole-society approach that will require the effort and cooperation of all relevant stakeholders, from plastics inventors to producers, retailers, consumers, and recyclers,” Chen said. “As chemistry led to the creation of the plastics modern life depends on, it will undoubtedly contribute key solutions to the current plastics problem.”
Read more about Chen’s work, and other green chemistry at CSU, in the Spring 2018 issue of Colorado State Magazine.