Understanding the dynamics and morphology of smart, reversible polymer networks

Grantham Scholar Tom Jackson researches how to make polymers more sustainable without reducing their usefulness. 

The project

Currently in the UK, 80% of materials used in manufacturing end up as waste. As landfills fill up and demand increases, the need to improve sustainability and reduce the environmental impact from polymer-based products is becoming ever more important. My project is about technology which will allow for the reuse of some of these materials.

In manufacturing, current crosslinked polymers provide good mechanical properties and durability but have a negative environmental impact, since their structure prevents easy re-use or recycling at the end-of-life. The Slark Research Group has investigated types of polymers known as Covalent Adaptable Networks (CANs), with applications as coatings and adhesives. The structures and therefore properties of these CANs can be controlled to suit their intended purpose, while allowing facile reprocessing, improving scope for reuse of polymer and substrate.

My project will employ techniques, such as microscopy and X-ray scattering, in tandem with thermoanalytical techniques like DSC to determine how the structure and morphology of some of these polymers affects their properties, including covalent and noncovalent interactions within the network. Understanding these relationships will then allow us to tune these sustainable polymers to provide optimal performance while reducing waste and preserving valuable resources.