Scientists at Cornell University have developed a new polymer that can degrade by ultraviolet radiation. This faster degrading plastic can degrade on a realistic time scale if it is lost in the aquatic environment.
Principal investigator Bryce Lipinski, doctoral student in the Geoff Coates laboratory, said, “This material could reduce the buildup of persistent plastic in the environment.”
“Although research on degradable plastics has received much attention in recent years, obtaining a material with mechanical strength comparable to that of commercial plastic remains a difficult challenge.”
Scientists have spent the past 15 years developing this Plastic called isotactic polypropylene oxide or iPPO. Exposure of iPPO to UVA light (365 nm) resulted in photolytic degradation.
Lipinski noted that “Although iPPO is stable in ordinary use, it will eventually decompose when exposed to UV light. The change in the composition of the plastic is obvious in the laboratory, but visually it may not seem to have changed much during the process. “
“The degradation rate depends on the intensity of the light, but under their laboratory conditions, the lengths of the polymer chain have degraded to a quarter of their original length after 30 days of exposure.”
However, scientists do not want to leave any trace of the polymer in the environment.
Lipinski said: “There are precedents in the literature for the biodegradation of small chains of iPPO, which could actually make it disappear, but efforts underway are aimed at proving it.”
- Isotactic poly (propylene oxide): a photodegradable polymer with deformation hardening properties. DOI: 10.1021 / jacs.0c01768