Biodegradable Plastic: IBM, Stanford Reach Breakthrough

Mar. 9.10 | About: International Business (IBM)

IBM and Stanford University this week will outline a green chemistry breakthrough that may lead to biodegradable and biocompatible plastics.

In a nutshell, IBM and Stanford have applied “organocatalysis” to green polymer chemistry. The general theme is to make more environmentally friendly and degradable plastics.

The breakthrough could mean that disposable plastic bottles can be recycled beyond two generations. Typically, recycled plastic bottles wind up in items like carpet and playground that can’t be reused again and ultimately wind up in a landfill. By using organic catalysts it’s possible to create biodegradable molecules from renewable sources.

IBM’s expertise in science and chemistry derives from microelectronics. The material used in this breakthrough was used for polymers as insulators for on-chip applications.

The find will be detailed in a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal Macromolecules. One area of promise would be biomedical applications such as drug delivery. With organic custom polymers a drug could be delivered directly to a cancerous cell.

IBM claims that its recycling process can be more energy efficient that producing plant-based and PET plastics. Ultimately, IBM and Stanford are betting that its process breakthrough will create less expensive plastics. For instance, corn-based plastics are popular in places like San Francisco, but too expensive for wide adoption.

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