MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Australian scientists have developed a new material that can strengthen porous plastics by slowing their aging process.
Matthew Hill, from Australia's national science agency, Melbourne-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), told Plastics News the material, called a porous aromatic framework (PAF), acts like a shot of collagen, stalling the plastic from aging.
He said PAF is a white powder that is added to polymer blends and extends the longevity of porous products, like linings and filters, manufactured from the polymers.
PAF is added to super glassy polymers, which are initially porous and permeable but become less so quickly. The additive maintains the porosity by absorbing some of the polymer chains within its pores, thus holding the chains open.
“Those plastics currently only last a few weeks, but CSIRO has so far collected 500 days of data and the plastics are still performing well,” Hill said.
CSIRO's Sam Lau, lead author of a scientific article on the new PAF, said power generators rely on plastic linings with one-nanometer-wide holes, which is a “tiny fraction of a width of a human hair.
“For decades, scientists have been trying to improve the process by using plastics with larger holes. But larger openings tend to age quickly and collapse within days.”
PAF make linings with larger holes a “viable option for industry,” offering big cost and efficiency savings, Lau said.
PAF “acts like a Hollywood makeover and actually freezes larger holey structures in place for an entire year.”
Lau said current techniques used to separate raw materials, such as gases, liquids and solids, are energy intensive. But using CSIRO's PAF in the polymer makes the separation process 50 times faster.
Hill said: “PAFs could make separating fuels from pollutants much more effective and allow plastic to be used in ways it has never been used before.”
CSIRO is talking to prospective industry partners to scale up production of its new PAF, but Hill said nothing is signed yet.
A 20-person team is deciding the best way to commercialize the PAF. Hill said most prospective partners have two-to-three-year timeframes for commercialization.
PAF will likely cost A$10 (US$8.76) a kilogram, but “as it only needs to be added to 5 percent of the mixture to stop the plastic aging, that actually makes it about 50 cents (US 44 cents) a kilogram,” Hill said.