Researchers develop rubber made from industrial waste

Researchers at Flinders University in South Australia have developed a new kind of rubber and catalyst that together can be used with low energy consumption to make flexible, repairable, sustainable objects – including car tyres.

The new rubber material, made from industrial waste products such as sulfur, canola cooking oil and dicyclopentadiene (DCPD) from petroleum refining, can be repaired and returned to its original strength in minutes – even at room temperature – with an amine catalyst.

According to Flinders University Associate Professor Justin Chalker, the new type of rubber can also be recycled.

“This study reveals a new concept in the repair, adhesion and recycling of sustainable rubber,” he said.

“It is exciting to see how the underlying chemistry of these materials has such wide potential in recycling, next-generation adhesives and additive manufacturing.”

Researchers from the Chalker Lab at the Flinders University Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, with University of Liverpool and University of Western Australia colleagues, say the new rubber can be used as a “latent adhesive”.

“The rubber bonds to itself when the amine catalyst is applied to the surface. The adhesion is stronger than many commercial glues,” University of Liverpool researcher Tom Hasell said.

“The polymer is also resistant to water and corrosion.”

The research findings were published this month in international journal Chemical Science.

Flinders University lead author Sam Tonkin said rubber bricks made out of the polymer can be chemically joined by applying the catalyst.

“In some cases, the amine catalyst causes the rubber to bond in just minutes, and it can be done at room temperature,” he said.

“The rubber can also be used as a latent adhesive, where it bonds to the surface of another piece of rubber when the amine catalyst is applied. Basically the rubber is not ‘sticky’ until the catalyst is applied.”

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Waste sulfur polymers to assist plastic recycling

A new study published in Chemistry – A European Journal, suggests the problem of plastic waste could be addressed via waste sulfur polymers.

Study co-director Justin Chalker of Flinders University said researchers are working to develop a range of versatile and recyclable materials by controlling physical and mechanical properties, bringing them closer to scale up for manufacturing.

“Polymers made from elemental sulfur have emerged as versatile materials for energy storage, optics applications, environmental remediation and agriculture,” Mr Chalker said.

“Controlling their properties takes a big step towards these new polymers being able to replace plastics, rubber and ceramics that are currently unrecyclable.”

According to Mr Chalker, research found the new polymers could be broken down and reformed into new materials.

“This represents a new era in recyclable materials made from renewable building blocks such as plant oils and industry by-products such as sulfur,” Mr Chalker said.

University of Liverpool collaborator Tom Hasell said the research is another important set towards taking sulfur-based polymers out of lab, for use in every-day practical material.

“Being able to produce polymers from sulfur – a waste product of the petrochemical industry – is a really exciting opportunity, both for the environment and for creating more sustainable products and industries,” Mr Hasell said.

“Almost every household item has some kind of plastic polymer plastic in them and making polymers from sulfur, not carbon, opens doors into a new frontier of possibilities.”

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