Re-Imagining Polymer Chemistry for a Circular Economy
Brett A. Helms
The Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
One of the goals of a circular economy is to design-out waste and pollution by re-orienting industry around materials that can be re-used and recycled. For polymeric materials used in plastics and thermosets, those in use today were never designed to be recycled. As a result, they have accumulated in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems throughout the world in such alarming quantities that their influence can no longer be ignored. If circularity is to be realized, new polymer chemistries are needed for deconstructing products multi-material products classes, and, ultimately, for dissociating from plastics any additives used in manufacturing or to achieve a desired product aesthetic. In this seminar, I will describe our efforts to address these challenges using poly(diketoenamine) (PDK) vitrimers, which undergo reversible polymerization using atom- and energy-efficient processes. PDK vitrimers lay the groundwork for how to commodify polymers as highly valuable, renewable resources for a circular economy. PDKs also bring to the forefront intriguing new concepts in polymer chemistry and physics, particularly as it relates to the reconfigurability of soft matter using dynamic bonds and crosslinks in networked polymer architectures.
Brett A. Helms is a San Francisco-Bay Area native. He received his B.S. from Harvey Mudd College in 2000 and his Ph.D. in 2006 at the University of California, Berkeley with Jean M. J. Fréchet in designing branched polymer architectures for catalysis. His postdoctoral research was conducted at the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven with E. W. (Bert) Meijer where his focus was on supramolecular chemistry, polymers, and systems. In 2007, he began his independent career at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. His research program there is devoted to materials discovery and development to solve outstanding challenges in energy and sustainability.