United States – A team of Colorado State University scientists has invented what they claim to be the world’s first biopolymer that can be completely recycled. The material can be converted back to its original gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) monomer ‘without leaving behind any waste’.
Research duo Eugene Chen and Miao Hong have discovered how to create a class of plastics that is ‘truly sustainable’ as the material is both fully bio-renewable and recyclable. Their work has been hailed as a breakthrough that could lead to the replacement of conventional petroleum-based materials.
The team has employed specifically-designed reaction conditions, including low temperatures to make the polymer and heat between 220 and 300 degC to convert the polymer back into the original material, thus demonstrating its thermal recyclability.
‘More than 200 pounds of synthetic polymers are consumed per person each year – plastics probably the most in terms of production volume,’ Chen comments. He stresses that nowhere near all of the existing biodegradable plastics such as polylactic acid are necessarily recyclable in terms of feedstock recycling.
Previously, bioplastics could only undergo partial thermal recycling. This innovation has not gone unnoticed: Chen and Hong received the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in November.