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Germany: Light-Controlled Molecules Discovery Could Enable Recycling of Non-Recyclable Plastics

Editor: Alexander Stark

A discovery made by Berlin scientists paves the way for the development of novel recycling methods and sustainable materials. Their strategy is based on a molecule, which can drive or reverse specific chemical reactions with light of different colors.

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A new discovery lays the foundation for recycling of yet non-recyclable plastics. (sample image)
A new discovery lays the foundation for recycling of yet non-recyclable plastics. (sample image)
(Source: Pixabay / CC0 )

Berlin/Germany — Robust plastics are composed of molecular building-blocks, held together by tough chemical linkages. Their cleavage is extremely difficult to achieve, rendering the recycling of these materials almost impossible. A research team from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) developed a molecule, which can drive or reverse specific chemical reactions with light of different colors. This enables making and breaking of connections on the molecular scale, even if they are exceptionally strong. The discovery paves the way for the development of novel recycling methods and sustainable materials. Light-driven recovery of individual molecular building-blocks has great potential to enable recycling of yet non-recyclable plastics without compromising on color, quality, or shape.

According to Michael Kathan and Fabian Eisenreich, the two first authors of this study, the working principle of their system is quite similar to the one of ready-to-assemble furniture. They explained that they are able to repetitively assemble or disassemble molecular architectures, but instead of a 'hammer and screw-driver', they use red and blue LEDs as tools to control their molecules. The results of their study have just been published in Nature Chemistry.

Publication: “Light-driven molecular trap enables bidirectional manipulation of dynamic covalent systems” In: Nature Chemistry (2018), DOI: 10.1038/s41557-018-0106-8; Authors: Michael Kathan, Fabian Eisenreich, Christoph Jurissek, Andre Dallmann, Johannes Gurke, and Stefan Hecht

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