Rubber polymer enables greener construction materials
Bricks and construction materials could be made from recycled PVC, waste plant fibres or sand with the help of a new kind of rubber polymer discovered by Flinders University scientists and described in Chemistry — A European Journal.
The powdered rubber polymer, itself made from sulfur and canola oil, can potentially be used as tubing, rubber coatings or bumpers, or compressed, heated and then mixed with other fillers to form entirely new composites — including more sustainable building blocks, concrete replacement or insulation.
“This method could produce materials that may one day replace non-recyclable construction materials, bricks and even concrete replacement,” said Flinders organic chemistry researcher Associate Professor Justin Chalker. This is significant as cement is a finite resource and heavily polluting in its production, with concrete production estimated to contribute more than 8% of global greenhouse gases emissions.
“This is also important because there are currently few methods to recycle PVC or carbon fibre,” Assoc Prof Chalker added.
The new manufacturing and recycling technique, labelled ‘reactive compression moulding’, applies to rubber material that can be compressed and stretched but doesn’t melt. The unique chemical structure of the sulfur backbone in the novel rubber allows for multiple pieces of the rubber to bond together.
“This new recycling method and new composites are an important step forward in making sustainable construction materials, and the rubber material can be repeatedly ground up and recycled,” said lead author Dr Nic Lundquist. “The rubber particles also can be first used to purify water and then repurposed into a rubber mat or tubing.”
The Chalker Lab at Flinders University has previously developed sulfur polymers for a number of applications in mopping up environmental pollutants — from oil spills in water and mercury and heavy metals in soil. Co-author and research collaborator Dr Louisa Esdaile said the team’s research looks at ways to repurpose and recycle materials, so that these materials are multi-use by design.
“Such technology is important in a circular economy,” Dr Esdaile said.
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