Biodegradable Thermoplastic for Expedited Decomposition

Technology #13053

Mimics Thermal and Mechanical Properties of Petroleum-Based Plastics but Decomposes Quickly

This environmentally friendly thermoplastic is biodegradable. Plastics are widely utilized in daily life as variously shaped articles such as films, bags, and containers. However, serious environmental concerns have been raised because the majority of plastics apparently require hundreds of years to decompose in the natural environment. With consumption of plastics continuing to increase annually, the need for a biodegradable solution is absolutely critical. Researchers at the University of Florida have developed a class of thermoplastic termed polyesteracetal (PEA). It is designed to decompose under the natural conditions of a landfill during a timescale of months to years but, unlike other biodegradable plastics on the market, it possesses thermal and mechanical properties in line with robust petroleum-based plastics. This combination of properties offers an exceptional competitive advantage to current biodegradable plastics and the plastic industry overall.

Application

Biodegradable thermoplastic for shaped plastic articles in a variety of products, such as packaging, containers, bags, and medical devices

Advantages

  • Offers an environmentally friendly, biodegradable alternative to traditional plastics, providing major competitive advantage
  • Decomposes quickly and under natural conditions, offering a solution to growing concern regarding the accumulation of plastics in the environment
  • Serves as an alternative to current biodegradable plastics because of improved thermal and mechanical properties
  • Offers two modes for main-chain degradation: enzymatic (biodegradation) and hydrolytic (microorganism independent), accelerating rate of decay
  • Can be shaped and remolded, providing countless opportunities and potential uses in a variety of industries
  • Amenable to chemical recycling (in addition to normal recycling methods), wherein the polymer is depolymerized to regenerate the original chemical building blocks

Technology

A thermoplastic is a polymer that turns to a processable liquid when heated and solidifies to a glassy or semi-crystalline state upon cooling. Thermoplastics can be rigid, flexible, or elastic, and can be reshaped easily by reheating, making them recyclable. The polyesteracetals (PEAs) developed by University of Florida researchers are semi-crystalline polymers with a melting temperature around 145°C. These polyesteracetals are designed to derive from methanol, which is also called wood alcohol because it can be made from trees. Additionally, the thermoplastic produced from polyesteracetals is able to decompose via the ester functional group or the acetal functional group. Thus, this polymer has the unique ability to degrade via microbial action (ester functional group) or via acid-catalyzed hydrolysis (acetal functional group). Furthermore, polyesteracetals are potentially carbon-neutral since their feedstocks can be bio-based and their ultimate decomposition product, carbon dioxide, is food for plants. Polyesteracetals have the potential to revolutionize the plastic industry because they effectively mimic the thermal and mechanical properties of many petroleum-based plastics, yet they have an accelerated degradation profile which avoids environmental persistence.