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Researchers Develop a Way to Repurpose Polyurethane Waste into Other Useful Products

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Published on : Aug 27, 2019

Polyurethane is widely used in several types of materials such as foam mattresses, insulation, paints, and seat cushions. These applications also produce a large amount of polyurethane waste which needs to be processed without affecting the environment. A group of scientists at the University of Illinois developed a process to disintegrate polyurethane waste, which would further be transformed into certain useful products.

The team plans to present its report at American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition.

According to a study, around 1.3 mn tons of polyurethane waste is produced every year in the US. This waste is either incinerated or is dumped in landfills. These process do not just consume a lot of energy, but is also not environment friendly, due to its harmful byproducts as a result.

The lead author of the research, Ephraim Morado said, the main aim of this study is to repurpose polyurethane such that it becomes useful again in another form, and reduces environment pollution.

Acetal Is Incorporated to Breakdown Isocyanates and Polyols

Isocyanates and polyols are the two main components in polyurethanes which are difficult to break down. To overcome this issue, the group has introduced acetal, which is comparatively more easily degradable chemical unit than polyol. “Now, when dichloromethane and trichloroacetic acid, the compound swells and degrades rapidly at normal room temperature,” informed Ephraim.

This degradation product can be used again for making different materials. For instance, the scientist successfully converted elastomers, which is a kind of polyurethane utilized in car parts, packaging, and rubber bands, into an adhesive.

However, a major challenge which carrying out this process was the cost of starting material, which was very high. So, the team is now looking for other cheaper and pocket-friendly alternatives. The second obstruction in the process is to get themselves patent, and to find an investor who would be interested in this project and its commercialization.