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Scientists at the University of Tokyo have created a new kind of plastic which could benefit the environment

by | Nov 7, 2023

Plastic is a serious issue within today’s society, currently most items contain plastic, it is very difficult to break down and difficult to recycle, however a team of scientists in Japan have had an innovative breakthrough with their research and have developed a plastic which has multiple benefits and it actually good for the environment.

The most poignant fact about this new plastic is that through is specific design, when it is at room temperature, it will remain a solid plastic. However, it can be easily through heating it up and adding a specific solvent or it will be easily degraded in water and become marine food, rather than pollution.

This new plastic is called VPR and it is created with the idea of a type of plastic, epoxy resin vitrimer, in mind. This type of plastic is strong at room temperature but can easily be reshaped and moulded once heat is applied to it. Despite virtimer normally being hard and brittle, the reshaping and moulding is made possible through the changes the scientists made to the make-up of the plastic, through adding polyrotaxane, a molecule. This is how VPR, a new kind of plastic, was invented, and after performing a multitude of tests, it was discovered that this new plastic has a magnitude of advantages compared to similar materials.

For example, the scientists scratched the plastic with a scalpel and in response the plastic healed itself once it was heated for 60 seconds at 150 degrees Celsius. Another test was performed where the plastic was folded into the shape of a crane and flattened, whilst being observed the plastic reformed the previous shape once heat was added to it. All of these results were recorded in a much faster time than any other kinds of plastics which have been tested reacted in.

The scientists pushed this experiment further and researched into VPR’s ability to break down and discovered that once enough heat is applied and a specific solvent is added, the molecular bonds within the plastic will break, leaving behind only the raw materials, providing the opportunity for something new to be made. The plastic was also tested within the water where once submerged in sea water for 30 days, the plastic was able to biodegrade 25%, simultaneously releasing molecules which act as food for marine life. This means that due to VPR’s flexibility and the way it is easy to breakdown, the new plastic has the potential to be used in a variety of materials, with the suggestion that it could be used in more products than plastic currently is.

The lead author of the study, Shota Ando, commented, “VPR is over five times as resistant to breaking as a typical epoxy resin vitrimer,” It also repairs itself 15 times as fast, can recover its original memorized shape twice as fast, and can be chemically recycled 10 times as fast as the typical vitrimer. It even biodegrades safely in a marine environment, which is new for this material. Just to give some examples, infrastructure materials for roads and bridges are often composed of epoxy resins mixed with compounds such as concrete and carbon. By using VPR, these would be easier to maintain as they would be stronger and healable using heat. Unlike conventional epoxy resins, this new material is hard but stretchable, so it could also be expected to strongly bond materials of different hardness and elongation, such as is needed for vehicle manufacture.”

This breakthrough will be extremely beneficial to industries and the environment and it will significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste, through the closed loop circuit this product has created through it variety of abilities and advantages.

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