Researchers in Japan have chemically recycled bioplastics into nitrogen-rich fertilizer in a process described as ‘facile and environmentally friendly’.
The advance from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) was led by assistant professor Daisuke Aoki and professor Hideyuki Otsuka and is claimed to pave the way towards sustainable circular systems that address plastic pollution, petrochemical resource depletion, and world hunger. The team’s findings have been published in Green Chemistry.
For their study, the team focused on PIC (poly (isosorbide carbonate)), a type of bio-based polycarbonate produced using a non-toxic material derived from glucose called isosorbide (ISB) as a monomer. The carbonate links that join the ISB units can be severed using ammonia (NH3) in a process called ‘ammonolysis’, which produces urea, a nitrogen-rich molecule that is widely used as a fertilizer. According to Tokyo Tech, few studies on polymer degradation have focused on the potential uses of all the degradation products instead of only the monomers.
The scientists first investigated how well the complete ammonolysis of PIC could be conducted in water at 30°C and atmospheric pressure. The team analyzed the reaction products through nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and gel permeation chromatography.
“The reaction occurs without any catalyst, demonstrating that the ammonolysis of PIC can be easily performed using aqueous ammonia and heating,” Dr. Aoki said in a statement. “Thus, this procedure is operationally simple and environmentally friendly from the viewpoint of chemical recycling.”
“We are convinced that our work represents a milestone toward developing sustainable and recyclable polymer materials in the near future,” said Dr. Aoki. “The era of ‘bread from plastics‘ is just around the corner.”
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