Breakthrough could lead to more complex, specialized materials
PITTSBURG—Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pa. have discovered a more specialized and environmentally friendly way of manufacturing plastics.
They started off with a process called atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP), which is already used to make products such coatings, adhesives and cosmetics.
ATRP relies on a reaction between two species of copper to grow a complex polymer structure, but this can lead to materials with high levels of copper, which is also hard to remove from manufacturing equipment.
Instead, the researchers used a computer-controlled battery to apply electricity to the system, giving them more precise control over the reaction. They were able to manipulate the ATRP process in real-time by changing the current or voltage. This also allowed them to reduce the amount of copper from 5,000 parts-per-million (ppm) to 50 ppm.
The researchers are calling the new process electrochemically mediated ATRP (e-ATRP).
So far, they’ve been able to make star, brush and block copolymers. They say that e-ATRP could create polymers with even more complex architectures.
The study was published in the April issue of Science.