Fully Recyclable Biopolymer Could Transform Bioplastics
Colorado State University chemists Miao Hong and Eugene Chen have successfully created a fully recyclable biopolymer, using a monomer Gamma-buytrolactone, also known as GBL.
Monomers are molecules that bind chemically with other chemicals to create polymers. The scientific community had previously believed that GBL was un-polymerisable, but the research of Hong and Chen proves otherwise. The colourless liquid is usually used as a reagent in cleaning solutions and super glue removers.
There is already a polymer similar to GBL in the growing bioplastics market. P4HB is derived from bacteria, but GBL is more abundantly available and much cheaper to produce.
The researchers have also developed a reverse thermal reaction that causes the polymer to revert to its original monomer form, which can then be re-utilised again in future plastic products. This means that GBL is fully recyclable, an advantage in comparison with other bioplastics materials, which may be only partially biodegradable.
It’s an intriguing time for the plastics market with growing pressure from various angles, including the CO2 emissions and ocean waste perspectives, to implement change in the market. Bioplastics are one promising area of innovation and its the potential for exceptional cost effectiveness that makes the Colorado State University team’s revelation most interesting.