Supercomputers ensure plastics peg out later

Nov 23, 2010
Supercomputers ensure plastics peg out later
The research team used supercomputers to understand the breakdown of plastics.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists from The Australian National University have used supercomputers to reveal how plastic items like the humble clothes peg can be designed to withstand the sun for longer.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Michelle Coote and PhD student Ms Anya Gryn’ova from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology at ANU, have used sophisticated quantum chemistry and supercomputers to model polymer degradation and discovered how to make better, more robust plastics. Their work will be published in an upcoming special edition of The Royal Society Chemistry journal, Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry.

“Although plastics have been manufactured for a long time, in this study we have uncovered critical information about creating longer lasting plastics which is important if we want to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering landfill every year,” said Associate Professor Coote.

Historically scientists have thought that clothes pegs and other plastics left out in the sun become brittle and fail due to a process called autoxidation. Exposure to light or heat generates free radicals, which are reactive species that attack the polymeric chains in the plastic causing them to rearrange and break. Crucially, each ‘broken’ polymer chain is then thought to attack the next polymer chain, leading to a cascading failure that results in visible damage to the plastic.

However, the research led by Associate Professor Coote suggests that most types of plastics should actually be inherently resistant to this process and the reason damage occurs at all is because most polymer chains contain a small number of defect structures, formed during their manufacture.

“The good news is that if you can remove these defect structures you could greatly improve the stability of many plastics,” said Ms Anya Gryn’ova.

The findings of this research have led to a number of recommendations to prolong the shelf-life of plastics, including using improved manufacturing reaction conditions and choosing more resistant polymers for long term plastic design. Conversely, the information gained in this study will also assist in creating improved biodegradable plastics.

“Our research has shed considerable light on the process of how degrade and should mean that brittle clothes pegs falling off the line are a thing of the past,” said Associate Professor Coote.

Explore further: New process can convert human-generated waste into fuel in space

Provided by Australian National University

3.5 /5 (2 votes)

Related Stories

Scientists to develop tougher plastics from plants

Nov 19, 2010

Scientists at the University of Bath and Tel Aviv University are working on a new project to improve the properties of plastics made from plants so that they can be used in a wider variety of products, from bottles to clothes.

Scientists de-polymerize polymers

Jun 26, 2007

Japanese scientists have created a process that breaks down certain plastics, allowing the chemicals to be reused to make new higher-quality plastic.

Big steps in creating small chips

Nov 04, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Plastic, heated in a simple microwave oven, is the technique researchers at the University of Alberta and the National Institute for Nanotechnology believe could help to re-invent the manufacture ...

Plastic waste: better to burn?

Aug 25, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Burning plastic can give off less carbon dioxide than burying it, scientists claim in a Royal Society of Chemistry journal.

Recommended for you

Electronic switches on the molecular scale

Nov 25, 2014

A molecular electronic switch is a junction created from individual molecules that can alternate between two or more stable states, making the switch act as a conductor or an insulator. These switches show ...

Mimicking photosynthesis with man-made leaves

Nov 25, 2014

Scientists have long been trying to emulate the way in which plants harvest energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Plants are able to absorb photons from even weak sunlight using light antennae made ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wwqq
not rated yet Nov 23, 2010
In other words: If you make disposable crap, use biodegradable plastics, if you're making stuff that's supposed to last a long time and you have to use plastics, this will help.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.