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Versatile new material combines "best qualities" of glass and resin

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November 18, 2011

Samples of the new resin shaped with high heat  (Image: CNRS)

Samples of the new resin shaped with high heat (Image: CNRS)

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Synthetic resins start out as viscous liquids that eventually solidify or "cure" into clear or translucent solids. These materials, which combine the desirable properties of strength, durability and light weight, are so useful that you can find them in thousands of applications, particularly aircraft, automobiles and electronic circuits. But for all that versatility, there's one thing that's remained elusive: once cured, resins can not be reshaped. Now, a team from France's National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), led by award-winning physicist Ludwik Leibler, has developed an inexpensive and easily-produced material that is not only reshapable (like glass), but also repairable and recyclable, again, like glass. That's a potential boon for the auto body industry alone, and the possibilities for other uses are seemingly endless.

Way back in 1907, when Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland set out to create a replacement for shellac, he somehow ended up creating the world's first synthetic phenolic resin, Bakelite. Since then, the quest for lighter, cheaper, more resistant materials has continued apace, with the development of countless thermosetting plastic resins to replace heavier metal components. The CNRS team's compounds blend resin's most desirable properties with those of glass, while utilizing the same components already available industry-wide: epoxy, hardeners and catalysts.

Unlike traditional resins, the CNRS formulas, when subjected to high heat, can morph in shape without any change in the number of cross-links between their individual atoms. They can easily and endlessly transition from solid to liquid state and back again, which, until now, was a property only displayed by silica and a few other inorganic compounds.

Reshaping the new resin with high heat  (Image: CNRS)

Unheated, the resins can be made rigid or pliable by subtly changing the initial composition, which further expands the range of possible uses for these novel materials. We reported on another resin breakthrough earlier this year, and we'll keep you posted on the many new products that are sure to emerge from this important work in the months and years ahead.

Source: CNRS

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic!   All articles by Randolph Jonsson
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4 Comments

How 3D-printer friendly are these resins?

Geometeer
21st November, 2011 @ 04:48 am PST

How joinable are these resins? Glass is easily joinable when heated to it's liquid state. Two pieces merge into a single piece. Even metal cannot easily do this. Welding is similar but as any blacksmith will tell you, a lot of physical work goes into combining two metal pieces.

Eletruk
21st November, 2011 @ 08:59 am PST

Plastic components are molded and then mechanically joined, sometimes with adhesives. Having the ability to recycle the material is the primary advantage and this use is likely to be exploited by companies like BMW which produces its vehicles to be easily 100% recycled as required by German law.

Glass is not really recyclable in an energy efficient way. It costs so much to transport the glass to a facility to be melted down that there is seldom any energy savings derived. Using resin would be much more energy efficient, and be recyclable if used judiciously. Think about all the plastic toys and appliances that now go into landfills which could instead be recycled with the use of this material and proper design for fast disassembly by consumers.

Calson
28th November, 2011 @ 11:39 am PST

No more accumulation of unrecyclable mountains of trash? Biodegradability is now less of a concern since this new concept in material science should allow for the production of recyclables in categories which previously had physical requirements outside the functional range offered by things like plastics?

So it has some potential to ease the burden of our civilization's wastefulness... but what specifically will be made from it? Is there a certain area of emerging technology which is likely to benefit most? Or is this new material just so versatile in its applicability that such speculation is made difficult by the vastness of potential?

Erik Wilson
26th December, 2011 @ 12:24 pm PST
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