The researchers say the new materials are the first to demonstrate resistance to cracking, strength higher than bone, the ability to reform to their original shape (self-heal), and are completely recyclable back to their starting material. Also, these materials can be transformed into new polymer structures to further bolster their strength by 50 percent, making them ultra strong and lightweight.
This research was published today in the peer-reviewed journal, Science, with collaborators including UC Berkeley, Eindhoven University of Technology and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Saudi Arabia.
Polymers are a core material in common items ranging from clothing and drink bottles (polyesters), paints (polyacrylics), plastic milk bottles (polyethylene), secure food packaging (polyolefins, polystyrene) to major parts of cars and planes (epoxies, polyamides and polyimides). They are also essential components in virtually every emerging advanced technology dating back to the industrial revolution: the steam engine, the space ship, the computer, the mobile phone.
In addition to IBM’s research, Metabolix and other companies are exploring whether plants can be genetically engineered to make polymers for producing bioplastics in a way that’s cheaper than oil-based plastics.