Chemists from Cornell University have developed a new polymer with ample strength in a marine setting that is poised to degrade by ultraviolet radiation.
Chemists have created a new plastic that has the mechanical properties required by commercial fishing gear. If it eventually gets lost in the aquatic environment, this material can degrade on a realistic time scale. This material could reduce persistent plastic accumulation in the environment.
Geoff Coates, the Tisch University Professor and his research team have spent the past 15 years developing this plastic called isotactic polypropylene oxide, or iPPO. While its original discovery was in 1949, the mechanical strength and photodegradation of this material was unknown before this recent work. The high isotacticity (enchainment regularity) and polymer chain length of their material makes it distinct from its historic predecessor and provides its mechanical strength.
Researchers noted that while iPPO is stable in ordinary use, it eventually breaks down when exposed to UV light. The change in the plastic’s composition is evident in the laboratory, but visually, it may not appear to have changed much during the process.
The rate of degradation is light intensity-dependent, but under the laboratory conditions the polymer chain lengths degraded to a quarter of their original length after 30 days of exposure.
Ultimately, Bryce Lipinski, the lead researchers and other scientists want to leave no trace of the polymer in the environment. Lipinski notes there is literature precedent for the biodegradation of small chains of iPPO which could effectively make it disappear, but ongoing efforts aim to prove this.
Source: Cornell University