Vitrimers: the rise of recyclable plastics

Society often considers the use of plastics as non-sustainable since many synthetic materials can hardly be recycled today.

This is mostly the case for plastics used for structural applications such as robust rubber objects and hard, lightweight components for electric vehicles, wind turbines and airborne applications. The chemical composition of these materials is much stronger than for normal plastics, which results in non-processability towards other materials after use.

An international team of researchers, led by professors Filip Du Prez, Johan Winne (Ghent University) and Ludwik Leibler (Paris, EPSCI), elaborated a strategy to control the properties of a recently identified class of recyclable plastics, which is reported in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.

In 2011, a new type of polymer materials was introduced: vitrimers are chemically very stable materials that can be used for structural applications. Besides, due to their unique chemical properties, they can easily be reprocessed, repaired and recycled as is the case for classic materials such as glass and metal.

Although research on vitrimers is still in an early stage, a lot of interest from industry was already expressed. With renewed fundamental insights on the chemical process of the reprocessing, the researchers succeeded in controlling the properties and reprocessing of vitrimers by addition of specific additives, both for rubbers and hard plastics.

As one type of starting material is now employable in very different and demanding applications, this research is a big leap forward towards the use of recyclable plastics.

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Filip Du Prez (+32 494 40 76 85)