Sustainable Polymer Design with Dynamic Covalent Chemistry
The last century – aptly called the “Plastics Age” – has seen enormous growth in the field of polymer science, with advances in macromolecular synthesis providing access to a wealth of technological innovation. However, this development now presents us with a new challenge: plastic waste is increasingly accumulating in our environment. Fortunately, we can use the ever-evolving tools of polymer chemistry to design systems with improved end-of-use outcomes. In this talk, I will highlight two such systems, harnessing dynamic covalent chemistry to increase longevity and improve recyclability. First, I will show how the inclusion of boronate esters in photopolymerizable resins enables the 3D printing of dynamic materials whose function can be modified over the lifetime of the part. The exchange of these boronate esters facilitates not only network rearrangement but also chemical modification. For the second system, I will discuss the synthesis of functional polyethylene for use as a reactive compatibilizer in the recycling of mixed plastic waste. By leveraging the principles of green chemistry, this additive can be produced in an efficient, scalable manner, and its addition to polyethylene terephthalate/polyethylene blends results in dramatic improvement in mechanical performance. These results underscore the versatile impact that dynamic covalent bonds can have in the design and synthesis of sustainable polymer materials.