UGA New Materials Institute tests biodegradation of new thermoplastic polyurethane

A new biodegradable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) could help reduce the environmental footprint of soft, durable plastics used in footwear, floor mats, and other applications for TPUs.

The biodegradation of the new material was validated by the University of Georgia New Materials Institute. The TPU was developed by researchers from the University of California San Diego, which modified a polymer from the BASF Corporation. The team’s collaboration was just published in Nature Communications.

Live bacterial spores from a strain of Bacillus subtilis were incorporated into the new TPU by mixing the spores and TPU pellets in a plastic extruder, melting the ingredients to 135 degrees Celsius and then extruding the material as thin strips of plastic. To assess the TPU’s ability to compost, the plastic strips underwent respirometry testing at the New Materials Institute’s Bioseniatic℠ Laboratory in both microbially active and sterile compost environments. The researchers found that, regardless of their environmental conditions, the strips achieved greater than 90% disintegration at 37 degrees Celsius in five months, validating its ability to biodegrade. Although the material did not meet compostability requirements at 42 degrees Celsius, as approximately 67–72% of the carbon from the TPU was metabolized to CO2 in 6 months of testing, this TPU has promising potentials for industrial composting applications.

Biocomposite thermoplastic polyurethanes containing evolved bacterial spores as living fillers to facilitate polymer disintegration” was recently published online by Nature Communications.  The co-authors are Han Sol Kim, Myung Hyun Noh, Dabika Datta, Hyun Gyu Lim, Ethan Smiggs, Adam M. Frist and Jonathan K. Pokorski, of the University of California San Diego; Evan M. White, Michael V. Kandefer, Austin F. Wright and Jason J. Locklin, of the University of Georgia; and Md Arifur Rahman, of the BASF Corporation.

Their work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Advanced Manufacturing Office (DE-EE0009296); UC San Diego Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) and the National Science Foundation (DMR-2011924).

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