IBM researchers announced yesterday that they discovered a method of creating highly recyclable plastics from one of the most eco-friendly materials around – plants. Not only are the material’s components greener than traditional petroleum-based products, the production process uses significantly less energy.
IBM scientists used organic catalysts – catalysts made from organic compounds instead of metals to create plastic polymers that are functional through many rounds of recycling. Traditional plastics can generally be recycled once before the metal in the polymer starts to degrade and it must be sent to the landfill. The new compounds can be up-cycled and down-cycled into many different types of plastics. A plastic bottle can have a new life as a car bumper. Previously it was difficult to remake polymer compounds that retain the strength of the original materials.
The scientists also have high hopes for the use of the new eco-plastics in medicinal applications. Many encapsulated drugs are currently highly toxic because of the metal in the plastics involved. The new organocatalysts plastics could be used to deliver directed cancer therapy drugs safely because the polymers will safely degrade and deliver medicine on site in the body. In addition to all of this great news, researchers said that the new catalysts are, “dirt cheap.”
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