Scientists discover recycling process for polycarbonates

One-step chemical process discovered by IBM Research prevents decomposition process that causes bisphenol A leaching.


IBM Research, Yorktown Heights, New York, has announced that researchers from the Almaden lab in San Jose, California, have discovered a new, one-step chemical process that converts recycled polycarbonates into plastics that are safe for use in water purification, fiber optics and medical equipment.
 
Every year, IBM Research says the world generates more than 2.7 million tons of a specific plastic, known as polycarbonates, to create common household items, such as CDs, baby bottles, eyeglass lenses, smartphones and kitchen utensils. 
 
ibm research new recycling polycarbonates
IBM researchers Jeanette Garcia and Gavin Jones discovered a recycling method for polycarbonates, including CDs.
In the study of the new recycling process for polycarbonates, IBM researchers added a fluoride reactant, a base (similar to baking powder) and heat to old CDs to produce a new plastic with temperature and chemical resistance superior to the original substance. When the powder is reconstructed into new forms, its strength prevents the decomposition process that causes bisphenol A (BPA) leaching.
 
“Polycarbonates are common plastics in our society—especially in consumer electronics in the form of LED screens, smartphones and Blu-rays, as well as everyday eyeglass lenses, kitchen utensils and household storage gear,” says Gavin O. Jones, Ph.D., research staff member, IBM Research – Almaden. “We now have a new way of recycling to improve how this prominent substance impacts the world’s health and environment.”
 
“While preventing these plastics from entering landfills, we simultaneously recycle the substance into a new type of plastic—safe and strong enough for purifying our water and producing medical equipment,” says Jeanette Garcia, Ph.D., research staff member, IBM Research – Almaden. “It’s an environmental win on many fronts.”
 
In this study, researchers used a combination of predictive modeling and experimental lab work to make the discovery. The learning from these research efforts also is used to advance cognitive systems to help accelerate the materials discovery process. The scale, pace and complexity of materials science is a challenge for scientists working to discover new materials. 
 
As part of the IBM Research Frontiers Institute, scientists are combining expertise in informatics and polymers, and other materials, to prototype systems to extract, organize, analyze and predict insights from materials datasets. By leveraging existing knowledge from the world’s scientific databases and accelerating computations used in these types of experiments, these cognitive tools could help identify patterns and to bring new discoveries to realization faster, according to researchers. 
 
IBM Watson Discovery Advisor is an example of a cognitive system available to assist pharmacological researchers in finding new potential drug molecules and IBM’s science research team says it continues to broaden the domain expertise into new material areas.
 
The full research paper, One-step Conversion of Polycarbonates into Value-added Polyaryl ether sulfones, was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
 
For more than seven decades, IBM Research has defined the future of information technology with more than 3,000 researchers in 12 labs located across six continents. IBM Research says it is the largest industrial research organization in the world. For more information about IBM Research, visit www.ibm.com/research.
 
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