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Polyurethane foams are given a fresh look with 3-D printer inks that are high-performance

Polyurethane foams, which can be difficult to reuse, have been transformed into high-value 3D printers. This cost-effective upcycling opens the way for reuse of other difficult to recycle thermoset polymers.

The chemical recycling of thermoset plastics – polymers cross-linked which are permanently cured is not economically viable and the vast majority of them end up in the landfill. This has spurred research into the new field for chemical upcycling.

Scientists from Zhejiang University in China used the fragmentation and reconstruction method to recycle polyurethane foams that are found in all sorts of things from car seats to furniture mattresses and furniture to 3D printing resins that aren’t easy to create even when using a virgin material. The polyurethane was then mechanically broken down and was soaked in dimethylformamide using catalyst. The resulting mixture was then used as a basis for constructing different polymer network. A combination of photo-pre-curing and thermal post-curing changed the single network into an interpenetrating double-network that is crucial for a product with high performance. The resultant value-added 3D printing resins are chemically broken up similarly to the original polyurethane foam and converted into a new photo-curable resin to allow another cycle in 3D printing.

Repurposing polyurethane foam into modifiable tough elastomer, as well as 3D-printed light curable product

The upcycling of plastics has been previously accomplished, such as the conversion of the waste of plastic into muconic and gallic acids, which are essential reagents used in the food and pharmaceutical industries, and the transformation of waste from hydrocarbons to carbon-based materials. But, these methods are limited by their capacity and sustainability.

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The process is less expensive in terms of environmental impact and can bring down the cost of material, it could possibly become a standard manufacturing process. It could also be used for other industrial thermosets, like anhydride-cured epoxies and polyesters, and to create new polymer networks that produce numerous products that are superior in performance.

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Jane S. King

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