John Tolley, October 8, 2019

The wheels on your shopping cart; the sponge in your kitchen sink; the bushing that keeps you from feeling every bump in the road; the glue holding together the Hummel figurine you secretly shattered; the spandex yoga pants you love; the carpet you walk on every day.

Polyurethane is ubiquitous in modern life. A durable polymer created in 1937, it is one of the highest volume synthetic materials produced in the world. It has made possible major advancements in human safety and energy efficiency.

But this all comes at a price. The production of polyurethane creates copious amounts of waste, the disposal of which can introduce highly toxic substances into the environment. Domestically, 1.3 million tons of this waste is cast off each year, either into landfills or destined for incineration.

A University of Illinois team, led by graduate student Ephraim Morado and chemistry professor Steven Zimmerman, recently unveiled an elegant solution to polyurethane problem, one that chemically degrades the product into useful substances.

Using a novel approach that combines trichloroacetic acid and dichloromethane in a solvent bath, the team was able to convert common elastomers into adhesive.

The next step is to bring down the cost of conversion, possible through the introduction of more common and available solvents, says Zimmerman.

To learn more about this work, check out the full Illinois News Bureau story here.