Recyclable bioplastic membrane to clear oil spills from water

Wednesday 10 March 2021

How do you clean up an oil spill in water? This is quite a challenge. Chongnan Ye and Katja Loos from the University of Groningen and Vincent Voet and Rudy Folkersma from lecture Sustainable Plastics from NHL Stenden used a relatively new type of polymer to create a membrane that is both strong and easy to recycle. A paper describing the creation of this membrane was published in the journal Advanced Materials on 7 March 2021.

Dynamic network

In recent years, the researchers from both institutes have joined forces to investigate vitrimer plastics, polymer materials that have the mechanical properties and chemical resistance of a thermoset plastic. However, vitrimer plastics can also behave like a thermoplastic, since they can be depolymerized and reused. This means that a vitrimer plastic has all the qualities to make a good membrane for oil spill remediation. ‘Furthermore, it was made from malic acid, a natural monomer,’ adds Loos.

‘The polymers in the vitrimer are crosslinked in a reversible manner,’ explains Voet. ‘They form a dynamic network, which enables recycling of the membrane.’ The vitrimer is produced through base-catalysed ring opening polymerization between pristine and epoxy-modified biobased malic acid. The polymers are ground into a powder by ball milling and turned into a porous membrane through the process of sintering.

Applications

Creating this new membrane for oil spill remediation shows the power of cooperation between a research university and an applied university. ‘A while ago, we decided that the polymer groups at the two institutes should become one, by sharing students, staff and facilities. We recently started the first hybrid research group in the Netherlands,’ explains Loos. This makes it easier to find applications for newly designed materials. Voet: ‘Polymer chemists strive to link molecular structures to material properties and applications. Our hybrid research team has the experience to do just that.’

Read the full message from the University of Groningen here. There you will also find a link to the study.