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This New Plastic Can Be Used Again And Again, Forever

A new type of plastic has been invented by a team of chemists at Colorado State University, which they say can theoretically be recycled “infinitely”.

The material created by professor Eugene Chen has many of the same characteristics of everyday plastics, including strength, durability and heat resistance. However, unlike conventional plastics, it can be converted back to the molecules that form its building blocks with ease.

This process of “chemical recycling” can be undertaken without toxic chemicals or intensive lab procedures, and the scientists think it has potential to be rolled out industrially. “The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely,” said Chen.

Because their new material can be easily converted into useful base materials, its value can be recovered and the material could potentially be used again. This would prevent plastic from entering the environment and reduce the demand for new plastics.

Whats Next

Chen stresses that the new polymer technology has only been demonstrated at the academic lab scale. There is still much work to be done to perfect the patent-pending monomer and polymer production processes he and colleagues have invented.

Chen’s co-authors, from left: Research scientist Jian-Bo Zhu, and graduate students Jing Tang and Eli Watson.

With the help of a seed grant from CSU Ventures, the chemists are optimizing their monomer synthesis process and developing new, even more, cost-effective routes to such polymers. They’re also working on scalability issues on their monomer-polymer-monomer recycling setup, while further researching new chemical structures for even better recyclable materials.

It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialize in the marketplace, Chen said.

The paper’s first author is CSU research scientist Jian-Bo Zhu. Co-authors are graduate students Eli Watson and Jing Tang.
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