LEEDS, ENGLAND (Sept. 30, 2:30 p.m. ET) — Researchers at the University of Leeds and Durham University claim to have solved a long-standing problem that could revolutionize the way new plastics are developed.
The breakthrough will allow companies to create the “perfect plastic” with specific properties by using a high-tech recipe book. It will also increase the ability to recycle plastics according to the research, published in the journal Science.
The paper's authors form part of the Microscale Polymer Processing project, a collaboration between academics and industry experts that has spent 10 years exploring how to better control plastics properties during the melting, flowing and forming processes.
The research combines two computer models. The first calculates how a polymer will flow based on its molecular structure while the second predicts the shapes that these molecules will take.
Daniel Read, from the School of Mathematics at the University of Leeds, led the research. He 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.”
Tom McLeish, pro-vice chancellor for Research at Durham University, leads the Microscale Polymer Processing project. “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,” he said.
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.
“By changing two or three numbers in the computer code, we can adapt all the predictions for new bio-polymer sources,” he explained. “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.”
The Microscale Polymer Processing collaboration includes researchers from the universities of Durham, Bradford, Cambridge, Leeds, Nottingham, Oxford, Reading, Sheffield and University College London, alongside their industry counterparts from Lucite International, Ineos, LyondellBasell, BASF, Dow Chemical, DSM and Mitsubishi.