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IBM breakthrough in polycarbonate recycling

United States – A team at IBM Research’s Almaden laboratory in San Jose, California, has discovered a one-step chemical process that converts polycarbonates into plastics safe for water purification, fibre optics and medical equipment.

Researchers have added a fluoride reactant, a base similar to baking powder and also heat to old CDs to produce a new plastic with temperature and chemical resistance superior to the original substance. When the powder is reconstructed into new forms, its strength prevents the familiar polycarbonate decomposition process that causes leaching of BPA – a chemical that has raised concerns over its potential effects on the brain.

‘Polycarbonates are common plastics in our society – especially in consumer electronics in the form of LED screens, smartphones and Blu-rays, as well as everyday eyeglass lenses, kitchen utensils and household storage gear,’ explains Almaden team member Gavin O. Jones. ‘We now have a new way of recycling to improve how this prominent substance impacts the world’s health and environment.’

The full research paper, ‘One-step Conversion of Polycarbonates into Value-added Polyaryl ether sulfones’, has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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