PARIS (Dec. 23, 10:45 a.m. ET) — A new material matches the malleability of glass while retaining the toughness and stability of thermoset plastics.
Developed by research chemists in France, the polymer could be useful in the automotive and aerospace industries, reported Bethany Holford of Chemical & Engineering News.
“Anywhere you have a complex shape, you can use this material,” said lead researcher Ludwik Leibler of the School of Industrial Physics & Chemistry in Paris, part of France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). “It's much lighter than metal or glass, it's chemically resistant, and it's recyclable.”
Thermoset plastics such as Bakelite are stable against solvents and extreme temperatures. Once they have acquired a shape by polymerization in a mold, thermosets cannot be reshaped or reprocessed, either with heat or with solvent. Leibler's polymer has the stability of thermosets but behaves like glass, in that it can be shaped as desired merely by heating.
The researchers have been able to recycle the material so that it has the same properties as the original. Also, scratches and small breaks in the plastic can be repaired by heating it. Leibler's team has patented the material and hopes to see it commercialized soon. The chemical ingredients of the formulation are inexpensive and readily available, he said.
“The reported results demonstrate how, in a very simple way, one can make new easily processable materials with excellent properties,” commented polymer expert and Carnegie Mellon University chemistry professor Krzysztof Matyjaszewski. “The chemistry is very simple, robust, and provides unique organic materials that behave better than classical inorganic glasses.”
A full account of the work is given in the peer-reviewed journal Science.