Phys.org — Scientists at the University of Liverpool have discovered a new process to make polymers out of sulfur which could provide a way of making plastic that is less harmful to the environment.
Sulfur is an abundant chemical element and can be found as a mineral deposit across the world. It is a waste product from the refining of crude oil and gas in the petrochemicals industry, which generates huge stockpiles of sulfur outside refineries.
Whilst being identified as an interesting possible alternative to carbon in the manufacture of polymers, sulfur cannot form a stable polymer on its own but, as revealed in a process called ‘inverse vulcanization’ it must be reacted with organic crosslinker molecules to make it stable. This process can require high temperatures, long reaction times, and produce harmful by-products.
However, researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Stephenson Institute of Renewable Energy, working in the field of materials chemistry have made a potentially game changing discovery.
In a study published in Nature Communications, they report the discovery of a new catalytic process for inverse vulcanization that reduces the required reaction times and temperatures, whilst preventing the production of harmful by-products. It also increases the reaction yields, improves the physical properties of the polymers, and allows a wider range of crosslinkers to be used.
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