is getting a huge boost thanks to a team of European researchers that
has found a new way to develop this material. An innovative “recipe
book” will help experts create the ‘perfect plastic’ with specific uses
and properties. Presented in the journal Science,
this study was funded in part by the DYNACOP (“Dynamics of
architecturally complex polymers”) project, which has clinched a Marie
Curie Action “Networks for Initial Training” grant worth almost EUR 3.5
million under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
the course of the last decade, academics and industry experts in
Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have investigated how to
polish the development of giant ‘macromolecules’ that form the basic
components of plastics; these macromolecules also influence the
properties of plastics during the melting, flowing and forming processes
in their production.
use low-density polyethylenes (LDPEs) in trays and containers,
lightweight car parts, recyclable packaging and electrical goods. To
date, experts have first produced a plastic and then later found a use
for it. If this did not pan out, they attempted several different
‘recipes’ to see which worked best. This latest technique could help
ensure that bigger holes are not burned in the industry’s pockets, as
well as save on time.
mathematical models used put together two pieces of computer code. The
first estimates how polymers will flow based on the connections between
the string-like molecules from which they are made. The second predicts
the shapes that these molecules will take when they are developed at a
chemical level. The team, part of the Microscale Polymer Processing
project, used laboratory generated and synthesised “perfect polymers to
enhance these models.
are used by everybody, every day, but until now their production has
been effectively guesswork,” says lead author Dr Daniel Read from the
School of Mathematics at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
“This breakthrough means that new plastics can be created more
efficiently and with a specific use in mind, with benefits to industry
and the environment.”
his part, Professor Tom McLeish, formerly of the University of Leeds,
now Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Durham University, who leads the
Microscale Polymer Processing project, says: “After years of trying
different chemical recipes and finding only a very few provide useable
products, this new science provides industry with a toolkit to bring new
materials to market faster and more efficiently.”
McLeish, who is one of the authors of the paper, points out that
developments in plastics production, which is changing from oil-based
materials to sustainable and renewable materials, allows parties to
ignore the ‘trial and error’ phase.
“By changing two or three numbers in the computer code, we can adapt all the predictions for new biopolymer sources,” he says.
on the results of the study, Dr Ian Robinson of Lucite International,
and one of the industrial participants in the wider project, says: “This
is a wonderful outcome of years of work by this extraordinary team.
It’s a testimony to the strong collaborative ethos of the UK research
groups and global companies involved. The insights offered by this
approach are comparable to cracking a plastics deoxyribonucleic acid
DYNACOP project, which is headed by the University of Leeds in the
United Kingdom, is seeking to fuel our understanding of the flow
behaviour and dynamics of blends of topologically complex macromolecular
fluids and their role in processing and properties of nano-structured
blends. The DYNACOP consortium comprises experts from Belgium, Denmark,
Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
SOURCE: European Commission