This week, everyone is abuzz about plastics and polymers, following the discovery of a biodegradable plastic by researchers at Colorado State University. Chemistry professor Eugene Chen, awarded the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award for his work, and postdoc fellow Miao Hong developed a truly recyclable polyester that reverts to its molecular form when reheated for an hour.

The feedstock Chen and Hong began with is Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL). Previous study thought GBL as too thermally stable in their monomer state to polymerize, but Chen reportedly suspected some of the earlier research may be incorrect. The team developed reaction conditions that allowed the GBL to polymerize at low temperature, and then a heating process that devolves the polymer back into its original monomer, which makes it the first chemically recyclable plastic.

Poly(GBL) is cheaper to make than its biggest competitor, P4HB, making the team’s discovery highly marketable. A provisional patent has been filed with the help of CSU Ventures.

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