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SBIR Phase I:Versatile Polymers for Making New Components in Space and Eliminating Solid Waste
Phone: (832) 671-5793
Phone: (832) 671-5793
The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project is to address the need for recycling plastics that have surpassed their useful life. The ‘plastic’s revolution’ of the mid-twentieth century has greatly added value to society but has also created highly durable plastics that are used to make objects of limited life-expectancy. There are limited cost-effective alternatives to many of these polymers. Every day, 8 million pieces of plastic are thrown into the ocean amounting to 10 million tons per year. Although there are approaches to decompose or depolymerize the polymers used in common plastic parts, these methods are not generally efficient across the dimensions of cost, energy use, time for degradation, or scalability. An extreme example of the need for energy and time efficient depolymerization of polymers is in space missions. There is a very high cost of disposing solids in earth’s orbit and removing space-junk which must be monitored and avoided by orbiting satellites. Even more challenging is the need for reusable materials during extended space missions due to the lack of raw materials. _x000D_
This SBIR Phase I project proposes to develop a polymer-based plastics technology that allows for rapid, low-energy, triggerable disposal of plastics when a space mission has been completed. This project also proposes to carry out the disposal of plastics so that the products can extend their value and be recycled to make the same or different objects in space. Closing the polymer-carbon cycle has potential to extend space missions, lower the amount of supply materials needed, and reduce the amount of orbiting space junk. This project is developing a unique family of polymers which can be easily depolymerized back to the starting monomers via a photo or thermal trigger. The polymers are composed of cyclic, low ceiling temperature polymers. The low ceiling temperature means that once a single chemical bond in the polymer is broken, two ends are formed which instantaneously lead to depolymerization of the entire polymer molecule back to its original monomers.The depolymerized monomers can be evaporated to make the plastic parts ‘disappear’ or can be captured and used to repolymerize a new plastic component. This project will develop specific depolymerization triggers and a continuous-flow polymerization reactor for synthesizing plastic parts in space (and elsewhere for on-earth applications)._x000D_
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *