New Australian polymer manufacturing technology has led to the creation of environmentally benign paints with potential for the U.S. automotive industry. Scientists from the federal government's Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation in Melbourne, Australia, have worked closely with Melbourne-based DuPont Australia Pty. Ltd. to develop the technology, which involves controlling the molecular weight of polymers.
Greg Simpson, deputy chief of CSIRO molecular science, said that within two or three years "a significant proportion of U.S.-made cars will be coated with paints based on this world-leading Australian research."
The technology also is expected to create high-performance, rechargeable batteries, provide better rolling resistance for car tires, and make contact lenses and medical implants more compatible with human tissue. It also could make polymers easier to recycle.
Simpson said the new technology, known as Radical Addition Fragmentation Termination, involves special ingredients that allow manufacturers to control the lengths of polymer chains as they are formed.
He said RAFT currently is applicable only to acrylic-based polymers, in particular auto coatings, and polystyrenes.
DuPont research and development manager Leo Hyde said RAFT will work with "any conventional polymer made by solution or suspension polymerization." He said a major benefit is that it needs no special operating conditions.
"That means existing plants and equipment can be used, making it more commercially viable," Hyde said.
CSIRO scientist Ezio Rizzardo explained: "When plastics are made using conventional methods, their molecular chains form a great variety of different lengths. Some are shorter and some are longer, even when the same ingredients are used." The length of the chain largely determines the properties of the polymer.
"In most cases, the final product ends up being an average between properties for long and short chains," Rizzardo said.
With RAFT, manufacturers can control the lengths of the polymer chains, giving them the ability to precision-engineer the final product so materials can be tailored to match their end use.
"The RAFT process will lead not only to better plastics for uses we already have, but to new materials we've not even dreamed of," Rizzardo said.
Simpson said CSIRO and DuPont each have invested several million dollars in the research, but he would not be more specific.