Polycarbonate: IBM develops a safe recycling system

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A group of researchers of the PC giant developed a chemical process that prevents the leaking of bisphenol A.

A team of researchers from the computer giant IBM has developed a chemical process for recycling polycarbonate into another type of plastic that can be safely used for water purification, optic fibres and medical equipment. In other words, the process recycles polycarbonate, a thermoplastic polymer used to make CDs, baby bottles, glass lenses and phone parts.

Everything started with an old CD. “CDs are made out of polycarbonate, and so basically I took one of the CDs, I sorted through a few and made my judicious choice of which band I liked the least, and I won’t tell you who it was, but I basically took that and cut it into pieces with scissors” researcher Jeanette Garcia said.

Starting from little pieces about 1 centimetre in size, the experts working at the IMB lab in San José, California, added a base similar to baking powder, heat, and a fluoride reactant to produce a new plastic powder with temperature and chemical resistance superior to those of the original substance.

When the powder is reconstructed into new forms, its strength prevents the decomposition process typical for polycarbonate that usually causes leaching of bisphenol A, a toxic substance currently under examination for potentially causing brain damage.

“Polycarbonates are common plastics in our society – said Gavin O. Jones, Ph.D., research staff member – especially in consumer electronics in the form of LED screens, smartphones and Blu-ray discs, as well as everyday eyeglass lenses, kitchen utensils and household storage gear. We now have a new way of recycling to improve how this prominent substance impacts the world’s health and environment”.

The research “One-step Conversion of Polycarbonates into Value-added Polyaryl ether sulfones” was published in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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