Plastics form an essential part of everyday life, and yet few people stop to think about the processes that go into producing plastic items. Let’s take a look at some of the innovations taking the world of plastics by storm:
Solar cell plastics
The solar energy industry is growing at a remarkable rate. Initially hindered by a reputation of being ‘too expensive’, the industry has taken great strides towards reducing costs. There are many types of solar cell technologies, with one type, known as plastic, organic or polymer photovoltaic solar cells, making use of organic polymers or molecules to absorb light, transfer the charge and produce electricity. Plastic solar cells are lightweight and affordable, and recently researchers have discovered a way to produce the cells without the previously required specialised treatments. The new cell combines two different layers of sunlight-absorbing material, in a bid to harvest a broader range of sunlight energy. The method improves the cell’s conductivity by adding a component and using amorphous polymer blends.
Improved polymer production methods
In Houston, Texas, researchers are developing a new technique to use sunlight to grow functional synthetic polymers. This method could reduce the production costs of polymers, by replacing the molecular catalyst and transition metals currently used. The new technique uses photosensitive quantum dots and will simplify the process to make polymers with light-triggered nanoparticles.
Waste-reducing plant-based products
Plastic disposal remains a significant concern. Up to 79% of plastic waste ends up in landfills or the natural environment. In a bid to combat these issues, numerous companies are developing plastics made from plant-based materials. These ‘bioplastics’ derive from renewable biomass sources, including vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, straw, food waste and woodchips.
While creating bioplastics that function as effectively as oil-based plastics can pose an enormous challenge, companies and researchers are rising to the task. Recently Biome Bioplastics created a bioplastic that is capable of holding hot liquids. This bioplastic can compose and has been used to develop a throw-away coffee cup.
As plastics form the basis of numerous items, we use every day; it is highly unlikely that consumers will stop using plastics. What is happening though, is that the way we use plastics, and the types of plastics we use, are rapidly changing. This serves as an essential reminder to always keep innovation in mind.
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