Kai Yu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, along with associate professor Christopher Yakacki, received a grant from the National Science Foundation Mechanics of Materials and Structures Program to study the recycling of thermosetting polymers and their composites.
Thermosets with crosslinking networks have been widely used in high-performance applications requiring thermal stability, chemical resistance and structural integrity. However, they are extremely hard to reprocess and recycle using conventional methods, leading to ever-increasing contaminations in the waterways, wildlife and human bodies.
Yu leads the research to use the chemomechanics theory to drive the development of a green and sustainable recycling approach using organic solvents. It uses a bond-exchange reaction between a solvent and the composite to decompose the polymer matrix and reclaim clean fibers. The decomposed products can be used to fabricate new composites with near identical mechanical properties for the same applications.
The work aims to pave the road for the immediate applications of this innovative recycling method and significantly ease the environmental and health concerns associated with the traditional waste disposal methods, e.g., landfills and incineration.
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