'Perfect plastic' created

'Perfect plastic' created

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of Leeds and Durham University have solved a long-standing problem that could revolutionize the way new plastics are developed.

The breakthrough will allow experts to create the 'perfect plastic' with specific uses and properties by using a high-tech 'recipe book.' It will also increase our ability to recycle . The research paper is published in the prestigious journal Science on Thursday.

The paper's authors form part of the Microscale Polymer Processing project, a collaboration between academics and industry experts which has spent 10 years exploring how to better build giant 'macromolecules.' These long tangled molecules are the basic components of plastics and dictate their properties during the melting, flowing and forming processes in plastics production.

Low-density polyethylenes (LDPEs) are used in trays and containers, lightweight car parts, recyclable packaging and . Up until now, industry developed a plastic then found a use for it, or tried hundreds of different "recipes" to see which worked. This method could save the manufacturing industry time, energy and money.

The mathematical models used put together two pieces of . The first predicts how polymers will flow based on the connections between the string-like molecules they are made from. A second piece of code predicts the shapes that these molecules will take when they are created at a chemical level. These models were enhanced by experiments on carefully synthesised 'perfect polymers' created in labs of the Microscale Polymer Processing project.

Dr. Daniel Read, from the School of Mathematics, University of Leeds, who led the research, said, "Plastics are used by everybody, every day, but until now their production has been effectively guesswork. This breakthrough means that new plastics can be created more efficiently and with a specific use in mind, with benefits to industry and the environment."

Professor Tom McLeish, formerly of the University of Leeds, now Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Durham University leads the Microscale Polymer Processing project. He said, "After years of trying different chemical recipes and finding only a very few provide useable products, this new science provides industry with a toolkit to bring new materials to market faster and more efficiently."

Professor McLeish added that as plastics production moves from oil-based materials to sustainable and renewable materials, the "trial and error" phase in developing new plastics could now be by-passed. He said, "By changing two or three numbers in the computer code, we can adapt all the predictions for new bio-polymer sources."

"This is a wonderful outcome of years of work by this extraordinary team. It's a testimony to the strong collaborative ethos of the UK research groups and global companies involved," he added.

Dr. Ian Robinson of Lucite International, one of the industrial participants in the wider project said, "The insights offered by this approach are comparable to cracking a plastics 'DNA.'"

The model was developed by Dr. Daniel Read, School of Mathematics, University of Leeds, Dr. Chinmay Das of the School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Leeds and Professor Tom McLeish, Department of Physics, Durham University. Their predictions were compared to the results of polymer analysis by Dr. Dietmar Auhl, at the time a physicist at Leeds.

Explore further

'Self-healing' polymer may facilitate recycling of hard-to-dispose plastic

Citation: 'Perfect plastic' created (2011, September 29) retrieved 23 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2011-09-plastic.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 29, 2011
What I'm reading from this article is that with the use of their theoretical framework, and the computer program they developed, we will be able to more easily find a natural plastic to substitute for the petroleum based one.

How is that great? (Hypothetical) For one, they will be able to turn down the volume on those obnoxious sunchip bags...

Sep 30, 2011
The crinkle in sunchip bags has been deliberately manufactured in. The sound makes people around you realize your eating them and also want some, making eating them contagious.

Well anyway, that's one theory.

Sep 30, 2011
What I'm reading from this article is that with the use of their theoretical framework, and the computer program they developed, we will be able to more easily find a natural plastic to substitute for the petroleum based one.

How is that great? (Hypothetical) For one, they will be able to turn down the volume on those obnoxious sunchip bags...

Many current plastics and plasticizers leech carcinogenic and xeno-estrogenic compounds. It's a much larger problem than many people realize and it could be one of the main reasons sperm counts have been decreasing since the '50s. The lessening of testosterone is devastating on a country-wide scale because it controls ambition, focus, energy, libido and mood.

Also, widespread adoption of a plastic that biodegrades would help reduce the accumulation of detritus in the oceans and landfills.

Sep 30, 2011
To Beard: I'm actually trying to reduce my sperm count... preferably to zero. So far nothing's worked, including 25 years as an X-ray tech. I guess I will have to get the vasectomy .... oh well.

Sep 30, 2011
Beard, didn't you know you were supposed to ignore any long-term effects of technology? I mean, we clean drinking water with chlorine, which causes cancer. EM Radiation causes cancer. Pretty much any technology is bad for us and the environment. It will takes us decades if not centuries to change technology so that it exists in harmony with nature, if that ever happens. I like how you think! Lowering testosterone is a problem, mainly for the ambition part.

Sep 30, 2011
So, the dear professors have made a computer program that presents guesses as to the shape of a plastic molecule and how it might flow when cast.

That is a long way from "having created the perfect plastic". Or from having created any plastic at all, actually.

This may move the trial-and-error from physical experimentation to doing it in front of the computer. But it still is trial-and-error: tweak parameters until the result is near usable. -- And you still have to check it for real, to see if the model works for this particular plastic.

I see this article as a last-ditch effort to get attention, and hopefully references in literature, merely a nice plastics algorithm blown to way larger than life.

Oct 23, 2011
Just use the programme and instead of trial-and-error in front of the computer you tell what properties you are looking for and ask for simulations until the software found the perfect plastic for your purposes.

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