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Turning car plastics into foams with coconut oil

June 07, 2017

End-of-life vehicles, with their plastic, metal and rubber components, are responsible for millions of tons of waste around the world each year. Now, one team reports in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering that the plastic components in these vehicles can be recycled with coconut oil and re-used as foams for the construction, packaging and automotive industries.

Recycled polycarbonate (PC) and polyurethane (PUR) are ideal for building insulation, refrigerators, cushions and packaging products. But it can be challenging for plastic car components to get to that point. Some plastic wastes from vehicles can be easily reprocessed; however, PC and PUR materials require a more arduous chemical recycling method. In addition, paints and coatings on PC and PUR plastics from cars typically interfere with the process, causing the recycled product to deteriorate. And simply adding some types of recycled PC and PUR materials to existing insulation foams, for example, can make the foams too dense or brittle. Although researchers have developed various chemical recycling techniques, very few have tried to make useable products with them. Hynek Beneš, Aleksander Prociak and colleagues wanted to take a new approach to converting PC and PUR into recycled materials, with the hopes of increasing their applications.

The researchers previously had shown that coconut oil could degrade PC. Here, the team developed a way to recover PC and PUR from waste car plastics with coconut oil and microwaves. This created a renewable and recycled product that did not degrade. This product can be combined with an existing foam and the integrity of the insulation foam is maintained. Furthermore, this new material was stable at high temperatures, making it ideal for incorporation into insulating materials for the construction industry.
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The authors acknowledge funding from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and Ministry of Science and Higher Education in the frame of Polish-Czech bilateral project and from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, National Sustainability Program (European Commission).

The study is freely available as an Editor's Choice article here.

The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, is a not-for-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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