New technique gives polyurethane waste a second life

August 26, 2019

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Polyurethane is used in a wide range of materials, including paints, foam mattresses, seat cushions and insulation. These diverse applications generate large amounts of waste. A team at the University of Illinois has developed a method to break down polyurethane waste and turn it into other useful products.

The researchers will report their findings at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition.

In the U.S. alone, 1.3 million tons of polyurethane waste is generated each year. The waste usually ends up in landfills or is incinerated, a process that requires a large energy input and generates toxic byproducts.

"We want to solve the waste problem by repurposing polyurethane," said Ephraim Morado, a graduate student in the laboratory of chemistry professor Steven Zimmerman, who led the research.

Polyurethanes are made of two components that are hard to break down: isocyanates, which are composed of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen; and alcohol groups called polyols.

"The polyol is usually petroleum-based and is not degradable," Morado said. To address this difficulty, the team incorporated a more easily degraded chemical unit, an acetal, to the polyol. And because polyurethanes are water-resistant, the researchers invented an acetal unit that degrades in solvents other than water.

"When we add a combination of trichloroacetic acid and dichloromethane, the material swells and rapidly degrades at room temperature," Morado said.

The degradation products that are formed can then be repurposed to new materials. For example, the researchers were able to convert elastomers - a type of polyurethane used in rubber bands, packaging and car parts - into an adhesive glue.

"One of the challenges with our approach is that the starting material is costly," Zimmerman said. "We are trying to find a better, cheaper way to accomplish this. Our second hurdle will be to get a patent and find someone who is interested in commercializing it."

The researchers are testing the same technique on other polyurethane materials. They also hope to use milder solvents, such as vinegar, to carry out the degradation.

"The polyurethane materials have different properties based on the chemical structure of the isocyanate," Zimmerman said. "We can change the structure of the acetal accordingly."
-end-
The National Science Foundation supported this work.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.