Beyond Heisenberg Compensators...


The central role of HFIP: a solvent component that solvates POM. a. 1,1,1,3,3,3-Hexafluoro-2-propanol (HFIP): an effective solvent for polyoxymethylene (POM), the clustering of HFIP enabled the decrease of σ*OH energy38. b. Images of an undivided cell before (left) and after (right) the electrolysis. c. Reaction profile of POM bulk electrolysis at 3.5 V (60 °C), 0.1 M LiClO4 in CH3CN: HFIP (26:4). Credit: Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-39362-z

Topics: Chemistry, Green Tech, Materials Science, Star Trek

A group of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign demonstrated a way to use the renewable energy source of electricity to recycle a form of plastic that's growing in use but more challenging to recycle than other popular forms of plastic.

In their study recently published in Nature Communications, they share their innovative process that shows the potential for harnessing renewable energy sources in the shift toward a circular plastics economy.

"We wanted to demonstrate this concept of bringing together renewable energy and a circular plastic economy," said Yuting Zhou, a postdoctoral associate, and co-author, who worked on this groundbreaking research with two professors in chemistry at Illinois, polymer expert Jeffrey Moore and electrochemistry expert Joaquín Rodríguez-López.

The project was conceived by Moore, who had experience working with Poly(phthalaldehyde), a form of polyacetal. Polyoxymethylene (POM) is a high-performance acetal resin that is used in a variety of industries, including automobiles and electronics. A thermoplastic, it can be shaped and molded when heated and hardens upon cooling with a high degree of strength and rigidity, making it an attractive lighter alternative to metal in some applications, like mechanical gears in automobiles. It is produced by various chemical firms with slightly different formulas and names, including Delrin by DuPont.

When recycling, those highly crystalline properties of POM make it difficult to break down. It can be melted and molded again, but POM's original material properties are lost, limiting the usefulness of the recycled material.

"When the polymer was in use as a product, it was not a pure polymer. It will also have other chemicals like coloring additives and antioxidants. So, if you simply melt it and remold it, the material properties are always lost," Zhou explained.

The Illinois research team's method uses electricity, which can be drawn from renewable sources, and takes place at room temperature.

This electro-mediated process deconstructs the polymer, breaking it down into monomers—the molecules that are bonded to other identical molecules to form polymers.

A recycling study demonstrates new possibilities for a circular plastics economy powered by renewable energy, Tracy Crane, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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