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German Scientists Develop World's First Plant Oil-based Plastic

The novel plastic has a composition bind that breaks away easily, making the recycling process easier.

The novel plastic has a composition bind that breaks away easily, making the recycling process easier.

The general process of recycling the available plastic involves segregating it to slice and converting it into tiny pellets that are used for creating new plastic objects.

With the growing concerns about the environment, one thing that has always been at the centre of the discussion is the use of plastic products. While these products are cheap and very useful, they also bring in a large share of threats to ecological conservation. However, this new latest invention by German scientists could be a possible eco-friendly substitute for plastic use. This newly developed plant oil-based plastic can be recycled up to 10 times for use.

Developed by Stefan Mecking, department chair of chemical materials science at the University of Konstanz in Germany, the new plastic has breakaway points engineered on a molecular level to allow easy processing. The findings of the research have been published in the scientific journal Nature.

What makes the invention more significant is the fact that this plastic has been developed from plants oils. This makes it an environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuel-based plastics. The novel plastic has a composition bind that breaks away easily, making the recycling process easier. The general process of recycling the available plastic involves segregating it to slice and converting it into tiny pellets that are used for creating new plastic objects. However, researchers have long been working on developing a chemical process of recycling that can break down the long chain of plastic polymer with solvent.

However, chemical recycling has its own set of challenges because of the strong carbon to carbon bonds to its molecular structure. To break these bonds, tons of heat is required. For example, 600-degree celsius of heat is required to break the carbon bonds to get access to the monomers, which is later chemically recycled at a rate lower than 10 per cent.

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With this new plastic, the process could become easier with a better result rate. During the study, the researchers used two different materials which were forms of polyester and polycarbonate. They were placed in ethanol and methanol under two scenarios. First with a catalyst at 120-degree heat and then without catalyst at 150 degrees Celsius.

The recycled plastic was then cooled and filtered out. Researchers were able to recover 96 per cent of the original material in the case of polycarbonate. Researchers also discovered that the recycling process of this new plastic worked even with the presence of plastic dye or fillers.

The new plastic has a density like that of polythene along with the many features that match the general plastic. Additionally, it can be easily recycled at a better effective rate. However, one aspect where this plant oil-based plastic lag behind the generally used plastic is the cost. The price is more than the general Ethylene used by chemical factories and it would be difficult to convince industries to move to expensive substitutes.

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first published:July 26, 2021, 20:25 IST