New research from CU Boulder, published in Nature Chemistry, details how a class of durable plastics widely used in the aerospace and microelectronics industries can be chemically broken down into their most basic building blocks and then formed once again into the same material.

CU Boulder says this is a major step in the development of repairable and fully recyclable network polymers, a particularly challenging material to recycle, as it is designed to hold its shape and integrity in extreme heat and other harsh conditions.

The study documents how this type of plastic can be perpetually broken down and remade, without sacrificing its desired physical properties, the research university says.

CU Boulder says the results also suggest that revisiting the chemical structures of other plastic materials could lead to similar discoveries of how to fully break down and rebuild their chemical bonds, enabling the circular production of more plastic materials in our daily lives.

Our chemical methods can help create new technologies and new materials.

CU Boulder says the research shows the scientists reversed a chemical method and discovered they can both break and form new chemical bonds in a particularly high-performance polymer.

They do this by breaking the polymer—”poly” meaning “many”—back into singular monomers, its molecules, a concept of reversible or dynamic chemistry.

The research university says this latest method is novel as it has not only created a new class of polymer material that is easy to build, break apart and rebuild over and over but the method can be applied to existing especially hard-to-recycle polymers.

Lead author of the study and chair of the chemistry department, Wei Zhang, said: “We are thinking outside the box, about different ways of breaking chemical bonds. Our chemical methods can help create new technologies and new materials, as well as be utilised to help solve the existing plastic materials crisis.”

“This chemistry can also be dynamic, can be reversible, and that bond can be reformed. We are thinking about a different way to form the same backbone, just from different starting points.”

This advance in the closed-loop recycling of plastics is inspired by the natural world.

“It can really benefit future design and development of plastics to not only create new polymers, but it’s also very important to know how to convert, upcycle and recycle older polymers.”

“By using our new approach, we can prepare many new materials, some of which could have similar properties to the plastics in our daily life.” For more plastic recycling and DMR Click Here

“This advance in the closed-loop recycling of plastics is inspired by the natural world, as plants, animals and human beings alike are currently part of a planetary-level, circular system of recycling.”

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