Polystyrene (Styrofoam) has been turned into a valuable chemical found in seaweed by exposing it to sunlight.
Broken down, it produces DPM (diphenylmethane,) a molecule in the aquatic plant used in drug development, polymer manufacturing, and even fragrances and other cosmetics.
Polystyrene is the indestructible plastic is found in everything from takeaway containers to TV packaging.
It’s rarely recycled due to costly and complex processes required, as well as the difficulty of collecting it.
Now scientists have broken it down using a simple and inexpensive technique that combines UV (ultraviolet) rays and a chemical catalyst.
Market incentive is baked into the process, since the market price for DPM is 10-times higher than other materials currently made from polystyrene. Other valuable chemicals produced included benzophenone, used for clear coatings in the printing and film industry, and 4-oxo-4-phenyl-butyric acid.
“Many municipal recycling facilities instruct residents not to put polystyrene in their home recycling bins,” explains lead author Professor Greg Liu, of Virginia Tech. “Currently, the main method for recycling polystyrene yields a product that is often too low-quality to make the process economically viable.”
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