Japanese scientists develop self-healing plastic that becomes food in seawater


Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a new type of plastic with multiple innovative properties, including increased resistance to breaking and the ability to repair itself faster.

What makes it special: The new invention, known as vitrimer incorporated with polyester-grafted polyrotaxane — or simply VPR — is stronger and more flexible than standard plastics. It can also self-heal, remember its shape and be broken down into its raw components with heat and a solvent.

VPR also biodegrades by 25% when submerged in seawater for 30 days. As polyrotaxane breaks down, it becomes a food source for marine life.

How they developed it: The researchers combined polyrotaxane, a molecule, to an epoxy resin vitrimer, a new type of plastic, to create VPR. Vitrimers are both solid and strong at lower temperatures and can be reshaped at higher temperatures, but they are usually brittle.

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“VPR is over five times as resistant to breaking as a typical epoxy resin vitrimer,” said Shota Ando, project assistant professor from the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences. “It also repairs itself 15 times as fast, can recover its original memorized shape twice as fast, and can be chemically recycled 10 times as fast as the typical vitrimer.”

Where it could be used: The researchers see VPR’s application in a wide range of industries, from engineering to fashion and robotics to medicine. For one, Ando said it can help make roads and bridges easier to maintain as they would be stronger and healable using heat.

The team will continue their research on VPR. They will also work with companies to test its feasibility for various applications.

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The team's findings are published in the journal ACS Materials Letters.


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