Swiss researchers at Empa have achieved a significant breakthrough by developing a groundbreaking epoxy resin that combines recyclability, flame resistance, and mechanical strength. The innovation, led by Sabyasachi Gaan and Wenyu Wu Klingler, introduces a phosphonate ester functional molecule to the epoxy resin matrix. Unlike conventional thermoset materials, this resin can be reshaped and recycled due to dynamic crosslinks that can be broken under specific conditions. This novel material, known as a vitrimer, opens doors to previously unattainable recycling possibilities for fiber-reinforced composites used in various sectors, including aerospace and transportation. By enabling the separation and reuse of both fibers and plastic matrix, this development tackles the environmental challenges posed by conventional composite disposal methods.
Beyond its application in composites, the versatile polymer can be used for coating wooden floors, offering flame-retardant properties alongside self-healing capabilities against scratches and dents. The researchers view this discovery as a toolbox, adaptable for multiple purposes, and are seeking industrial partners to explore its potential applications. Notably, the cost-effective and easily manufacturable nature of this modified epoxy polymer enhances its prospects for commercial success.
Empa’s Advanced Fibers laboratory, renowned for its advancements in flame retardant materials, recently hosted the European Meeting on Fire Retardant Polymeric Materials 2023. This success underscores the lab’s commitment to driving innovation in the field of sustainable materials.