Research Press Release

Sustainability: Slow and steady does not always win the race for plastics production

Nature Communications

July 25, 2018

A method for producing a more sustainable plastic polymer with similar properties to conventional plastics is reported in Nature Communications this week. The study demonstrates that bottle-grade polyethylene furanoate - a renewable resource based bioplastic - can be obtained within 30 minutes.

Finding sustainable alternatives to the current plastics used by society is of the utmost importance due to our reliance on this commodity. However, sustainable polymers usually have inferior properties compared to conventional plastics (including discolouration and thermal degradation) and thus cannot be implemented in certain everyday applications. Polyethylene furanoate has desirable properties but degrades upon formation because reaction times are very long.

Massimo Morbidelli and colleagues present a ring opening polymerisation method to form long linear chains of polyethylene furanoate that have properties ideal for use in bottles. Initially a high boiling point solvent enables the starting material of smaller cyclic polyethylene furanoate chains to mix with a tin based catalyst. Once the polymer product begins to form, it melts under the reaction conditions, which promotes conversion of the starting material. The reaction can be completed in 30 minutes using this method, leading to the formation of polyethylene furanoate with desirable properties and minimal degradation and decolouration.


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