Japanese Scientists Develop Durable, Self-Healing, Biodegradable Plastic

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A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo has engineered a plastic that outperforms existing materials, exhibiting exceptional self-healing capabilities while being biodegradable, even dissolving in seawater to serve as nourishment for plankton. The new plastic innovation has a wide array of potential applications ranging from construction to engineering and even light industrial use. Moreover, clothing made from this new plastic can change shape under the influence of heat from an iron or a steamer, offering new creative possibilities.

The foundation of this novel plastic variation is a vitrimer-based epoxy resin. Vitrimer plastics are a relatively new class of polymers, exhibiting solid strength at low temperatures and the capacity to repeatedly alter shape at high temperatures (much like thermoplastics used in producing plastic bottles). However, they are typically fragile and cannot stretch without damage. By introducing a molecule called polyrotaxane to vitrimers, experts succeeded in creating a notably superior plastic variant named VPR (vitrimer incorporated with polyrotaxane).

“VPR is more than five times more resistant to destruction than the conventional vitrimer based on epoxy resin,” explained project leader Shota Ando. “It also self-heals more than 15 times faster, recovers its original shape twice as quickly, and can be chemically recycled ten times faster than a typical vitrimer. It even safely degrades in a marine environment, a new aspect for this material.”

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Experiments showed that in seawater, the new polymer decomposes by 25% in just 30 days, transforming into plankton food. Plastic pollution in oceans is a severe concern, and this new material has the potential to alleviate the problem.

The self-healing feature of VPR holds promise in fields like road construction and infrastructure. Using a heat gun at 150°C helps the plastic seal cracks and scratches. Polymers are being integrated into road surfaces to enhance various properties, from adhesion to strength, and VPR can aid in quickly and effectively resolving another challenge: speedy and quality repairs.

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The scientists behind this new plastic have initiated discussions with manufacturers interested in this groundbreaking invention. “I have always found it very challenging to restore and recycle existing plastics as their properties vary depending on their use,” admitted Ando.

“It would be ideal if we could address many global issues with such a material.”

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Martin Harris
I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.

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