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Photocatalyst system for plastics production

Properties of recyclable plastics can be defined by the wavelength

Fabian Eisenreich

With the aid of a photoswitchable catalyst system, both the chain length (left) and the composition (right) of the polymers formed can be controlled by light of different wavelengths.

05-Jul-2018: A research team from Berlin has developed a novel catalyst system, which enables the regulation of multiple polymerization processes to produce biodegradable plastics solely by illumination with light of different colors.
 
The properties of a polymeric material are highly dependent on factors, such as the connected monomer building blocks as well as the length and composition of the formed polymer chains. Typically, these factors are predetermined by the choice of the employed reaction conditions. In order to overcome this limitation and generate materials with new and unprecedented properties, regulation of polymerizations by means of external stimuli represents an attractive goal. Similarly to dental repair, light serves to precisely control the location and duration of the chemical reaction during polymer formation.
 
A new method for the light-regulated production of biodegradable polymers has now been developed by chemists of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing Berlin, and the Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf. Their work is based on the design of a unique catalyst, which is capable to change its activity reversibly by illumination with light of different wavelength. Using their catalyst, the scientists were able to turn the formation of polylactide on and off on demand, which allowed them to control the chain length of the produced polymer strands. Moreover and for the first time, they were able to regulate the incorporation of two different monomers into the same polymeric backbone with light.
 
Fabian Eisenreich and Michael Kathan from the department of chemistry at the HU and first authors of the study explain: “With our remote-controlled catalyst we are in principle able to program the formation of the desired polymer strand by employing a specific order and duration of light pulses.” Their promising development is an important step toward smart production processes of (biodegradable) polymers with the aim to meet the growing demands of future applications, including light-guided 3D printing.

Original publication:
Fabian Eisenreich, Michael Kathan, Andre Dallmann, Svante P. Ihrig, Timm Schwaar, Bernd M. Schmidt & Stefan Hecht; "A photoswitchable catalyst system for remote-controlled (co)polymerization in situ"; Nature Catalysis; 2018

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  • Authors

    Michael Kathan

    Michael Kathan, born in 1988, studied chemistry at the Freie Universität Berlin and ETH Zurich, where he focused on fluorine chemistry and strained aromatic systems. After completing his master degree at the Freie Universität Berlin, he began his PhD thesis in 2015 in the research group of ... more

    Fabian Eisenreich

    Fabian Eisenreich, born in 1988, studied chemistry at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where he completed his bachelor and master thesis in the group of Professor Stefan Hecht while being supported during his studies by the Deutschlandstipendium. In the same research group in December 20 ... more

    Prof. Dr. Stefan Hecht

    Stefan Hecht, born in 1974, studied chemistry at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his PhD in 2001 on macromolecular organic chemistry under the guidance of Professor Jean M. J. Fréchet. After positions as a junior research gro ... more

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