IBM and Stanford University researchers said their findings might also lead to a new recycling process that has the potential to significantly increase the ability to recycle and reuse common petroleum and plant-based plastics.
"We're exploring new methods of applying technology and our expertise in materials science to (create) a sustainable, environmentally sound future," said Josephine Cheng, vice president of IBM Research in Almaden, Calif. "The development of new families of organic catalysts brings more versatility to green chemistry and opens the door for novel applications, such as making biodegradable plastics, improving the recycling process and drug delivery."
IBM said disposable plastic bottles are among the most vexing environmental challenges, with an estimated 13 billion plastic bottles disposed of annually. Although plastics are recyclable, the resulting materials are limited to "second generation reuse" -- meaning the materials made from recycled plastic bottles are dumped into landfills instead of being capable of repeated recycling.
The IBM-Stanford scientists said their findings could lead to a new recycling process that reverses the polymerization process to regenerate monomers in their original state, reducing waste and pollution significantly.
The research is reported in the journal Macromolecules.
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