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New IBM Technology Can Recover Plastic Waste

New IBM Technology Can Recover Plastic Waste

An IBM-Stanford breakthrough reverses the polymerization process to regenerate monomers in their original state, reducing waste and pollution significantly.

The new technology may have sustainability implications across a wide range of industries including biodegradable plastics, plastics recycling, healthcare and microelectronics.

A new recycling process based on the concept has the potential to significantly increase the ability to recycle and reuse common PET and plant-based plastics in the future.

"We're exploring new methods of applying technology and our expertise in materials science to create a sustainable, environmentally sound future," says Josephine Cheng, IBM Fellow and vice president, IBM Research - Almaden. "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."

More than 13 billion plastic bottles are consumed each year. The total plastic bottle recycling rate in the U.S was 27 percent in 2008, up from 24 percent in 2007, according to a report from the American Chemistry Council.

Limited Re-Use

Recycled plastic bottles are limited to "second-generation reuse," such as motor oil bottles. This means the materials made from recycled plastic bottles are disposed in landfills. In the U.S., up to 63 lb of plastic packaging per person is disposed of each year, instead of being repeatedly recycled.

If plastic waste can be regenerated into their original monomers, a significant amount of waste could be avoided. It wasn't clear what the economics of the new process are.

IBM is also collaborating with scientists from King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) to develop the recycling process for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics, which is used in containers for food, beverages and other liquids.

These breakthroughs also hold promise for biomedical applications. For example, many effective drugs designed to target cancer cells are often so potent that they attack cancerous and healthy cells alike. The use of organocatalysis could help in the design of custom polymers that may aid in delivering drugs to a specific cell or region.

Click here to watch the video "IBM and Stanford Collaborate on Green Chemistry Breakthrough"

New IBM Technology Can Recover Plastic Waste
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