THE ‘HOLY GRAIL’ OF PLASTIC WAS FOUND
Unlike normal plastics, the new material called poly (dichetoenamine) or PDK can be separated into its monomers by dunking it in a highly acidic solution. It breaks the bonds between acid monomers and separates them from additives that give the plastic a distinctive look and feel. These monomers can be recovered as long as possible for reuse or can be upcycled to obtain other products.
“We are interested in chemistry that directs plastic cycles directly to the environment. We see an opportunity to make a difference where recycling options are not available.” said Brett Helms, a scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. Dr. Helms added: “In PDKs, we see the exchange of immutable bonds in conventional plastics with reversible bonds, which allows the plastic to be recycled more effectively.”
The research team believes that recyclable plastics can be an alternative to today’s non-recyclable plastics. The next plan is to develop PDK plastics with a range of properties used for different purposes such as textiles, 3D printing and foam. Dr. Helms said: “This is an exciting time to start thinking about how to design both materials and recycling facilities to activate circular plastics.”