Researchers create new recyclable bioplastic membrane to address oil spills

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Following a new development, polymer scientists at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and the University of Groningen – a polymer membrane fabricated from biobased malic acid. The polymer membrane is epoxy resin of superamphiphilic vitrimer that can be used to separate oil and water, and is fully recyclable. When the pores of the membrane are blocked by foulants, it can be cleaned, depolymerized, and subsequently pressed into a new membrane.

The finding is published in the journal Advanced Materials.

How to clean oil spill in water is a challenge? Superamphiphilic membranes love both oil and water and are a promising solution. However, these membranes are not a very practical solution. These membranes are mostly not robust for use outside laboratory environments and the membrane pores can block due to fouling by sand and algae. To address this, the researchers used a relatively new type of polymer for the membrane.

Meanwhile, in recent years, researchers at these two institutes joined hands to examine polymer materials, vitrimer plastics that have chemical resistance and mechanical properties of thermoset plastics.

“Nonetheless, vitrimer plastics can also act like thermoplastics, since they can be reused and depolymerized. This implies vitrimer plastic possesses all qualities to create a good membrane for the remedy of oil spills. Moreover, the new membrane is manufactured from malic acid – a naturally available monomer,” stated one of the research associates.

Interestingly, the polymers in vitrimer are cross-linked in a reversible manner. The network formed is dynamic enabling recycling of the membrane. Regardless, to produce the vitrimer, it involves base-catalyzed ring-opening polymerization between epoxy-altered biobased malic acid and pristine.

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