IBM discovers new recyclable industrial polymer


Scientists from IBM Research have discovered a new class of polymer materials that would be ideal for manufacturing in fields such as transportation, aerospace and microelectronics.

Using high performance computing with synthetic polymer chemistry, the researchers have discovered a new material that is resistant to cracking, high strength, has the ability to self-heal while being completely recyclable.


These materials can also be transformed into new polymer structures that improves their strength by 50 per cent, making them ultra strong and lightweight.

IBM Research advanced organic materials scientist James Hedrick said: “Although there has been significant work in high-performance materials, today’s engineered polymers still lack several fundamental attributes. New materials innovation is critical to addressing major global challenges, developing new products and emerging disruptive technologies.

“We’re now able to predict how molecules will respond to chemical reactions and build new polymer structures with significant guidance from computation that facilitates accelerated materials discovery. This is unique to IBM and allows us to address the complex needs of advanced materials for applications in transportation, microelectronic or advanced manufacturing.”

Current thermoset plastics are often difficult to recycle, but this new material will revert to its original components if placed in very acidic water, which will enable recycling.

The research has been published in the journal Science. Collaborators on the project included the University of California Berkeley, Eindhoven University of Technology and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

Pictured is a scanning electron microscopy image of the new ultra-strong polymer reinforced with carbon nanotubes.