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Light triggers plastics rebirth

United States – A discovery by researchers at North Dakota State University in the USA could yield a new type of plastic that can be broken down when exposed to a specific type of light. Essentially, the material is reduced back to molecules, which would allow it to be turned into new plastic.

The team′s concept experiment utilised a fructose – found commonly in fruit – to create a solution of molecules, which was then converted into a plastic polymer. By exposing the plastic to ultraviolet light at 350 nanometres for three hours, researchers degraded the plastic and reduced it back to the soluble, building-block molecules from which it began.

′Plastics usually don′t decay for hundreds of years, creating solid waste issues,′ comments Dr Dean Webster. ′This cradle-to-cradle approach to create a plastic which can be degraded easily offers scientific potential for eventual products that could lessen dependence on fossil fuels and decrease the amount of raw materials needed.′

In the next two years, the group will examine how its method could benefit plastics used in real-life applications such as car and electronics manufacturing. A key question will relate to the durability and strength of the plastics to ensure commercialisation.

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