Self-healing plastic becomes biodegradable
9/13/2023 Sustainability News

Self-healing plastic becomes biodegradable

The plastic was developed in Helmut Cölfen's working group, who introduced the material - a so-called mineral plastic - in 2016. In their current publication in the journal Small Methods, the chemists from Constance present the next generation of their mineral plastic. Compared to conventional plastics, it is harder, non-combustible and has self-healing properties. It is produced at room temperature in water and without toxic solvents. The plastic is freely mouldable before it hardens. Afterwards, it can be returned into its flexible structure by adding water and can consequently be recycled as often as required.

self-healing plastic
Even though the plastic with its impressive material properties and the new manufacturing process received high interest from the industry, it still had one disadvantage: due to its chemical composition, it was hard to biodegrade.

New basic building block for greater environmental compatibility

Instead of petroleum-based components such as polyacrylic acid, the plastic contains polyglutamic acid. This natural biopolymer is available in large quantities and can be obtained sustainably, for example, from biotechnological production by microorganisms. Moreover, there are already many microorganisms in the environment that can degrade polyglutamic acid.
Our new mineral plastic has the same positive properties as the old one but has the significant advantage that its basic component - polyglutamic acid - can be produced using microorganisms and is completely biodegradable.
Helmut Cölfen, Group Leader of the working group Cölfen

Support from colleagues in Biology

To prove that not only the starting component but also the new mineral plastic itself is biodegradable, the chemists asked David Schleheck and postdoc Harry Lerner from the Department of Biology at the University of Konstanz for support. In various degradation experiments, biologists were able to show that microorganisms found in forest soils, for example, began metabolising the mineral plastic after a few days. After 32 days, the microorganisms had completely degraded the plastic. As a result, the researchers' mineral plastic is not only biodegradable, but also sustainable.
Smartphone receives e-mail messages, virtual mail icons can be seen.
Green Background

Inside Industry Newsletter

Don't miss our best content and news around the medical technology industry. Sign up for the newsletter now for free.