A group of scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a polymer that self destructs in daylight, according to a Science Daily report published Monday. However, unlike previous consumer-grade biodegradable plastics, it does not take years to disappear: instead, it vanishes in a matter of hours.
A video posted online by the American Chemical Society details that the new material completely liquefies under sunlight. The material is slated for presentation at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition on Monday.
According to scientists led by Paul Kohl, Ph. D, the material’s remarkable properties are a result of the use of cyclic polymers with a low ceiling temperature. Normally, such polymers would be too unstable and break apart quickly due to structural imperfections. However, the team developed a manufacturing process that provides flawless molecules that remain stable.
Many polymers with high ceiling temperature remain stable even when heated above the ceiling temperature, due to thousands of links between monomers in the molecule. By contrast, should even one bond in a cyclic molecule be disrupted, the entire molecule breaks down, Science Daily explains.
To trigger the disintegration process, a special light-absorbing chemical is added to the mix. Depending on the intended use, the chemical can be ultraviolet-sensitive only, or, vice versa, react to the spectrum of indoor light.
"This polymer disappears in an instant when you push a button to trigger an internal mechanism or the sun hits it,” Kohl explains. "We have polymers designed for applications in which you come in the room, you turn the light on, and the thing disappears.”
Additional additives can stall decomposition for an intended amount of time, allowing the material to stay under sunlight.
"You would keep it in the dark until you were going to use it, but then you would deploy it during the day, and you would have three hours before it decomposes,” Kohl says.
According to researchers, the material was initially developed for the military, who seek to deploy electronic sensors and delivery vehicles behind enemy lines while not having to bother with removing them afterwards. Once the material liquefies, it leaves no trace of its presence, the scientists claim, adding that the material has already been incorporated into military devices. Possible applications include a solid glider vehicle and a soft nylon-like parachute.
Scientists eye peaceful applications as well, such as environmental monitoring sensors that can be deployed without the need to worry about littering, Science Daily says.