Plastic is exceptional – till you no longer require it.
Because plastics include different additives, like color, dyes, fillers, or flame retardants so that fewer plastics can be recycled or reuse without deterioration in performance or appearance. Despite the most recyclable plastic, PET (poly(ethylene terephthalate) – is only recovered 20 to 30%, & the rest goes to incinerators or landfills, where it takes ages to decompose.
A team Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) has invented a recyclable plastic that, like a Lego playset, can be dismantled into its fundamental parts at the molecular level, and then regain into a various shape, texture, and color repeatedly again and again without degrading the performance or quality. The innovative material, called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, was published in the journal Nature Chemistry.
Maximum plastics were never meant to be recycled,” said lead author Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “Although we have discovered a new way to construct plastics that takes recycling into the state from a molecular perspective.”Recycling plastics and plastics upcycling or upgrading are unique challenges.
Recycling plastic one monomer at a time
The researchers need to redirect plastics from landfills and the oceans by motivating the restoration and reuse of plastics, which could be potential with polymers made from PDKs. “With PDKs, the stable bonds of conventional plastics are restored with reversible bonds that allow the plastic to be recycled more efficiently,” Helms said.
Unlike regular plastics, the monomers of PDK plastic could be revived and released from any compounded additives only by dunking the plastic into a highly acidic solution. The acid serves to break the linkages between the monomers bonds and apart from them from the chemical additives that will plastic its appearance and feel.
After experimenting with different formulations at the Molecular Foundry, they showed that not only does acid disintegrate PDK polymers into monomers, but the method also provides the monomers to be separated from weaved additives.
Next, they showed that the collected PDK monomers could be transformed into polymers, and those recycled polymers can form new plastic materials without obtaining the color or other features of the original content – so that damaged black watchband you threw in the garbage could get a new one as if it’s produced with discovered PDK. Also could also upcycle the plastic by adding extra features, such as flexibility.