Polyurethanes in products from cushy sofas to stretchy spandex have made sitting, sleeping and walking more comfortable. But once they have served their purpose, most of the non-degradable materials pile up in landfills.
Now scientists report in the journal ACS Macro Letters a potential way to reduce future waste: a chemically recyclable foam made using a new sugar-derived material.
Polyurethanes are highly versatile materials. In addition to furniture and clothing, manufactures use them in electronics, cars, floors and medical devices. But the materials come from petroleum, and efforts to recycle them are limited. To tackle the huge amount of waste this creates, scientists are pursuing more sustainable options. Marc A. Hillmyer and colleagues developed an efficient method to make a sugar-derived rubbery polyester compound called poly(?-methyl-?-valerolactone), or PMVL, that can be used in new chemically-recyclable polyurethanes.
Using this new polymer, the researchers made flexible polyurethane foams that were comparable in performance to commercial analogs.