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A team of chemical engineers at Zhejiang University, in China, has developed a way to convert polyurethane foams to 3D printing resins. In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the group describes their technique and possible ways the resins could be used.
Polyurethane foams (also known as foam rubber) of the types that are found inside of car seats, couches and mattresses are used to make products more comfortable. They are actually a type of plastic that is made to expand by forcing gas bubbles into mixtures using a blowing agent. Such foams are notoriously difficult to recycle because of the curing process that is used to make them.
Current approaches, as the researchers note, tend to be economically unattractive and also lead to the production of subpar byproducts. Because of that, most such products wind up in a landfill. In this new effort, the team in China has developed a novel approach to recycling such materials—one that they claim is both inexpensive and scalable. They describe it as an example of chemical upcycling, where typically discarded materials are converted to high-value products.