Choking of global sea routes and oceans with plastics is a problem that is known to everyone, however until now all we could do was to discuss. With only a handful of activists getting their hands dirty and actually going out there and doing something, nothing much was on the horizon. That has changed now!
Chemists at Cornell University have developed a new polymer that can actually degrade under ultraviolet radiation. We all know that there is no dearth of UV in open seas.
“We have created a new plastic that has the mechanical properties required by commercial fishing gear. If it eventually gets lost in the aquatic environment, this material can degrade on a realistic time scale,” said lead researcher Bryce Lipinski, a doctoral candidate in the laboratory of Geoff Coates, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University.
This material if used commercially will reduce the plastic pollution that is killing our oceans. It’s an established fact that commercial fishing contributes to half of all the plastics that are dumped in the ocean. Fishing nets and ropes are made of very high strength plastic polymers. Isotactic polypropylene, high-density polyethylene, and nylon-6,6 are the polymers that are primarily used to make fishing tools. All these polymers are very difficult to degrade naturally.
The research team has spent the last 15 years developing isotactic polypropylene oxide, or iPPO. Although it was discovered way back in 1949, its real caliber was recently discovered. What makes it the best material for creating fishing tools is its ability to photodegrade. The team has given it a new property of high tensile strength making it suitable for commercial fishing equipment manufacturing.
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Center for Sustainable Polymers, the NSF-supported NMR Facility at Cornell, and the Cornell Center for Materials Research.