New kind of plastic could make recycling easier

Summary

Adding acids and bases to plastics makes them easier to recycle and process, according to research at the University of Ghent

Step forward

Researchers at Ghent University have developed a new type of recyclable plastic. Characteristics that are essential to the recycling process can be significantly changed by adding very small quantities of simple additives, like acids and bases, optimising the recycling of the material.

The new plastics belong to the class of vitrimers, chemically strengthened plastics that can easily be processed, repaired and recycled. They can be used as rubber objects but also as hard and lightweight components of electric cars, wind turbines and aerospace applications.

Vitrimers were only discovered in 2011 as a unique materials class, and have attracted significant interest from the industrial sector because of the efficient manner in which they can be recycled and processed, compared to classic plastics. Many plastics are not sustainable because they are so difficult to recycle.

The research at Ghent is a major step forward in the use of the recyclable plastics because it means the characteristics essential for recycling can be separated from other characteristics. In principle, it will now become possible to make a customised vitrimer for numerous specific applications – such as rubber and harder applications – by choosing the right additives.

For the research, the team of Ghent professors Filip Du Prez (pictured right) and Johan Winne worked with colleagues from Paris. The results of their study were published in Nature Communications.

Photo courtesy UGent