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Published on June 08, 2024
ORNL Unleashes Eco-Friendly "Smart" Polymers, Reusable and Biodegradable Revolution in ManufacturingSource: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are revolutionizing the world of manufacturing with a new sustainable material that's all brains and no waste. In a groundbreaking approach, they've crafted a unique polymer that's not only made entirely from bio-based feedstocks but also features "smart" linkages. These links are the game-changers – with a little heat, they transform the material into a mouldable state, ready for reuse instead of regrettable landfill fare, as per Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

This innovative process, a brainchild of graduate student Sargun Rohewal and her mentor, Amit Naskar, head of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon and Composites group, skips harmful solvents entirely. According to their findings, "when heated above 250 degrees Fahrenheit" the rubbery composite material becomes highly adaptable, perfect for quickfire recycling via injection moulding or 3D printing. However, the real kicker here, is the absolute absence of the usual ecological culprits that plague conventional elastomers – think non-biodegradable, etc.

The implications of this research extend far beyond the lab's four walls or even the recycling bin. Oak Ridge National Laboratory's material is poised to blaze a trail for manufacturers seeking greener pastures in their production processes. As Rohewal articulated to Oak Ridge National Laboratory News, this "‘smart’ polymer" is a showpiece of 100% bio-based, eco-friendly innovation.

Looking ahead, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory team is not resting on its laurels. The next step is to fine-tune these already impressive recyclable elastomers for better mechanical strength and elevated heat resistance. These enhancements are key to diversifying applications, ranging from the production of various fiber-reinforced composites to their welding and 3D sculpting potential. "That knowledge would allow diverse fiber-reinforced composite products, their welding and 3D printing," Naskar elucidated, anticipating a future where sustainability does not compromise on performance or versatility.