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David Attenborough in Blue Planet II did what many polymer scientists in my field have been trying to do for years: Convince the public and government that the challenges of plastic waste are real and need to be fixed. But is this as simple as doing away with single use plastic? This talk will explore the complex nature of our plastic environment, the interdependency of plastics on our goals for lowering our carbon footprint and increasing our expected lifespan, while also showcasing our own work on how polymer chemistry has the opportunity to shape a new sustainable future by developing interdisciplinary solutions that work for all actors.
Story 1: Ring opening polymerisation of structurally diverse 1,3- dioxolan-4-ones (DOX monomers) affords isotactic and atactic polymers depending upon catalyst and reaction conditions, where avoiding epimerization is essential when deriving stereoregularity from enantiopure a-hydroxy acids. Scale up and optimisation of these materials, as well as broadening monomer scopes, yields a family of commodity plastics with desirable thermal properties whilst retaining hydrolytic and enzymatic degradability.
Story 2: We have developed polymeric frustrated Lewis pairs as functional materials, exploiting the dynamic chemistry of FLPs built of boron and phosphorus to deliver selective and unique chemistry. Our first-generation system used reversible azo binding to generate rapidly self-healing materials that act as supramolecular gels. Our new systems are even more powerful, with potential applications in selective capture and catalysis of small molecules.
Story 3: Why do we struggle to recycle? Is this due to the nature of the material, or how we value it? Our new work focuses on developing value chains in waste management solution, looking at how all actors in a supply chain can derive this value from participating in innovation. Our “One Bin to Rule Them All” solution will be introduced as a model for how to develop a hierarchy of materials.