©Hans Braxmeier

More and more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic are appearing on the market. Scientists from Groningen and China at the Feringa Nobel Prize Scientist Joint Research Center have succeeded made plastic from the natural molecule lipoic acid. This material is easier to recycle than existing plastics, according to the researchers.

Lipoic acid

Recycled plastic is often of a poorer quality. To make recycled plastic of the highest possible quality, the polymers (building blocks of plastic) of the old material must be completely broken down. This depolymerization process is difficult. The scientists have since developed a polymer based on lipoic acid. This can be made under mild conditions and can also be broken down again. This ensures that the polymer can easily be recycled. The scientists claim that it is possible to recover up to 87 percent of the lipoic acid molecules from the plastic.

This ensures that the polymer can be easily recycled. The scientists claim that it is possible to recover up to 87 percent of the lipoic acid molecules from the plastic. This can then be reprocessed into the polymers that do not lose any quality in the process. Breaking down the polymers is done by exposing them to sodium hydroxide, that’s how they then instantly dissolve into monomers.

The research

The joint research project carried out by the University of Groningen (RUG, The Netherlands) and the East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST, China) is still ongoing. Although the project’s researchers point out that an industrial application is unfortunately still a long way off.

The researchers are still searching for other polymers that have similar positive properties. They hope to be able to recycle as many of the polymers as possible and see if they can still achieve efficiencies at a higher rate than 87 percent. Their research was published in Matter and can be accessed here.

Innovation Origins previously reported on environmentally friendly plastics:
Blue-green algae offer environmentally-friendly alternative for plastics manufacturers
Vitrimers will make plastics of the future sustainable

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