Work on production of a biodegradable alternative to plastics to reduce pollution is being take up scientists.
Now, a Tel Aviv University researcher is giving the quest for environmentally friendly plastics an entirely new dimension - by making them tougher than ever before.
Prof. Moshe Kol of TAU's School of Chemistry is developing a super-strength polypropylene - one of the world's most commonly used plastics - that has the potential to replace steel and other materials used in everyday products.
This could have a long-term impact on many industries, including car manufacturing, in which plastic parts could replace metallic car parts.
Durable plastics consume less energy during the production process, explained Prof. Kol. And there are additional benefits as well.
If polypropylene car parts replaced traditional steel, cars would be lighter overall and consume less fuel, for example. And because the material is cheap, plastic could provide a much more affordable manufacturing alternative.
Although a promising field of research, biodegradable plastics have not yet been able to mimic the durability and resilience of common, non-biodegradable plastics like polypropylene. Prof. Kol believes that the answer could lie in the catalysts, the chemicals that enable their production.
Plastics consist of very long chains called polymers, made of simple building blocks assembled in a repeating pattern. Polymerization catalysts are responsible for connecting these building blocks and create a polymer chain. The better the catalyst, the more orderly and well-defined the chain - leading to a plastic with a higher melting point and greater strength and durability. This is why the catalyst is a crucial part of the plastic production process.
Prof. Kol and his team of researchers have succeeded in developing a new catalyst for the polypropylene production process, ultimately producing the strongest version of the plastic that has been created to date.
"Everyone is using the same building blocks, so the key is to use different machinery," he explained.
With their catalyst, the researchers have produced the most accurate or "regular" polypropylene ever made, reaching the highest melting point to date.
Cheaper and more efficient to produce in terms of energy consumption, as well as non-toxic, Prof. Kol's polypropylene is good news for green manufacturing and could revolutionize the industry.
Prof. Kol research has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.