UQ team works towards commercialisiation of plastics that break down in seawater


Researchers from The University of Queensland are developing novel plastic that the university says is affordable, can biodegrade in seawater, and could provide a solution to waste issues.

According to a statement from UQ on Thursday, Dr Ruirui Qiao from the university’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology is leading work with AIBN colleague Professor Tom Davis and Professors Xuan Pang and Xuesi Chen from the Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry on a project refining new polymerisation techniques.

Qiao said the goal is to commercialise products in Australia and China, displacing traditional plastics within five years and taking advantage of a biodegradable market expected to be worth more than $9.5 billion by that time.

She added that awareness of the problem of ocean plastic waste had risen in the last few years, but the sheer volume of plastics entering the sea meant new solutions were needed.

“We think plastic degradation technologies could be part of the answer,” she said. 

The team’s work is described as using 3D printing techniques developed by Qiao’s group at AIBN with polymeric materials created at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Qiao said one technique being used – “ring-opening polymerisation” – allows for precise control of the plastics’s strength and shape, while giving the plastics a low-toxic polyester “backbone”.

“This means the plastics are able [to] break down to a molecular state in marine environments,” said Qiao.

The collaboration has received $125,000 from the Queensland-Chinese Academy of Sciences Collaborative Science Fund to accelerate the work over the next two years.

Picture: supplied

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