Chemists devise a way to make tough plastics that are recyclable

One of the significant challenges of the modern world is getting people to recycle all the plastic that is produced around the world. The problem with some plastics is that they are very durable and won't break down in the environment. Chemists have devised a new method to make tough plastics that are recyclable at the end of their life.The new process for producing thermoset plastics allows the material to be broken down more easily after use. Thermosets include epoxies, polyurethanes, and rubber used for tires. The materials are typically designed to be durable and heat resistant, but their design makes them difficult to break down and recycle after use.

The reason for the difficulty in breaking the material down is that the mechanical strength is required to make them useful. Researchers have published a new study showing that they can produce a degradable version of a thermoset plastic called pDCPD that can be broken down into a powder, and the powder can be used to create more pDCPD. The team also proposed the theory that suggested their approach could be applicable to a wide range of polymers, including rubber.

In the project, the researchers added a material called silyl ether monomer to the liquid precursors that form pDCPD. The team found that if the silyl ether monomer made up between 7.5 and 10% of the overall material, the resulting pDCPD retained its mechanical strength, but can be broken down into a soluble powder with exposure to fluoride ions.

The result was the ability to make the material degradable without hurting its useful mechanical properties. In the second part of the study, the team tried to reuse the resulting powder to form new pDCPD material. They dissolved the powder into the precursor solution and used it to make new pDCPD thermosets from the recycled powder.