Peyton Shieh used his Kavanaugh Translational Fellowship to develop recyclable versions of existing high-performance thermoset plastics with new classes of small-molecule additives. Thermosets play a key role in the modern plastics industry, comprising ~18% of polymeric materials with a current worldwide production of 65 billion tons per year. Their high density of chemical crosslinks results in excellent mechanical properties for high-performance applications, but also prevent them from being readily reprocessed once formed. As a result, no general solution exists for thermoset recycling and the vast majority of these materials must be either incinerated or sent to landfills, resulting in a significant source of plastic waste. The fundamental design principle underlying our approach is the identification of additives that introduce cleavable bonds within the polymer backbone of crosslinked polymer networks. This approach maintains the performance profiles of the parent materials while seamlessly integrating with existing manufacturing workflows.
During his fellowship, Shieh made connections with companies across multiple industries and presented his work at the Deshpande IdeaStream and ANTEC. He was able to demonstrate technical milestones involving generalization to additional classes of thermosets and technology scale-up/transfer to external collaborators.