Technological watch

Goodbye solvents: sustainable synthesis and recycling with mechanochemistry

 Being both innovative and sustainable in the chemical industry is a real challenge. Can new materials be synthesised without the use of solvents' Ana Mangas, researcher in Mechanochemistry and Reactive Extrusion at AIMPLAS, the Plastics Technology Centre, writes. × AIMPLAS Mechanochemistry is the answer. Based on its 12 principles, green chemistry offers an unprecedented opportunity to change ourunderstanding of chemistry and its environmental impact. The ability to provide safer, cleaner and moreefficient and sustainable processes also makes mechanochemistry one of the most promising areas ofgreen chemistry.

Mechanochemistry is a branch of chemistry that is rapidly going forward as an efficient, sustainable alternative to traditional solvent-based methods. Its origins date back to the 1970s, when researchersbegan exploring how mechanical forces could trigger chemical reactions.

Advances in technology in recent decades have led to the development of more sophisticated equipment and techniques, which have increased interest in this discipline and its application in different fields.Unlike conventional methods, mechanochemistry does not involve the use of solvents to carry out reactions, thus avoiding problems associated with solvent quality and purity, not to mention toxic solvent waste. This technique helps achieve faster synthesis and, in some cases, can be carried out as acontinuous process rather than in batches, which makes it ideal for large-scale production applications.

Mechanochemistry can also be used to produce materials with unique properties that are difficult or impossible to obtain by other means, thus making it a valuable tool for research and development of new materials with applications in electronics, energy and medicine, among other sectors. New horizons Given its versatility, mechanochemistry is being used in a growing range of industries. It is not only one of the most sophisticated and cost-effective technologies, but has also become an alternative preparation method, which could help minimize the use and formation of hazardous materials and reduce the energy requirements of the process.

In fields such as organic chemistry and nanotechnology, mechanochemistry has proven to be effective for the synthesis of a wide range of materials, including catalysts, biopolymers, and pharmaceutical compounds. Mechanochemistry in organic synthesis represents a milestone in the evolution of green chemistry through the synthesis of complex molecules without solvents and conditions of extreme temperature and pressure.

In addition, this innovative approach shows great potential for the production of high value-added compounds with a lower environmental impact, making it an essential tool for sustainable development in the chemical industry. It has helped researchers obtain materials with surprising properties, such as the ability to catalyse specific reactions with greater selectivity, reactivity,functionality and stability than conventional catalysts, and is also a fascinating technique for synthesis ofcomplex molecules.

Moreover, it can be applied to a wider range of everyday materials, such as plastics.Plastics are used in a wide variety of products (packaging, car parts, medical devices, cables, textiles...)and have become omnipresent in our daily lives. However, the production and disposal of plastics alsorequire the discovery of more sustainable alternatives due to the considerable environmental challengesthey present. One of the most promising solutions is plastic recycling, which reduces the amount of waste and applies circular economy criteria to minimise its environmental impact.

Chemical recycling is, in fact, one type of recycling. It involves breaking polymer chains to obtain materials and substancesthat can be used in the plastics and chemical industries. These processes are considered a useful alternative to old-fashioned waste management processes, providing the opportunity to recycle certain types of plastics that generally, due to their complexity, contamination or incompatibility, are not recycled. However, some processes are far away from the 12 principles of green chemistry.

Even if waste is properly managed in a way that avoids landfilling, these waste recycling techniques require large volumes of solvents (some of which are highly toxic to the environment and human health) or systems and equipment that require very high levels of energy, which has significant economic and environmental impacts and can also generate greenhouse gases.

This is where mechanochemistry playsa key role in the shift towards solvent-free, energy-efficient chemical recycling of plastics. This shift not only affects plastic recycling but has also proven to be of interest for recovering waste from different industries (such as agriculture, consumer goods, electronics and construction) through the use of mechanochemistry to generate high value-added products.The mechanochemistry project The MECHANOCHEMISTRY project being lead by AIMPLAS has the potential to impact several industries, including synthesis of new materials and catalysts and recycling post-consumer plastics.

By promoting amore sustainable and efficient view of chemistry, this project can also help address some of the mostpressing global challenges, including climate change and resource scarcity.The project’s main goal is to explore the possibilities of mechanochemistry as a sustainable, efficientalternative to traditional solvent-based chemical processes.

It also aims to develop new tools and methods to control and optimize mechanochemical processes, and to improve our understanding of themechanisms and kinetics of solid-state reactions.

MECHANOCHEMISTRY focuses on two topics with exceptional potential for industrial transformation:- Research into new ways of synthesising catalysts and biopolymers- Developing sustainable methods for recycling post-consumer plastics MECHANOCHEMISTRY is at the forefront of research into material synthesis and plastic recycling processes because it provides innovative solutions that can change the industrial landscape based on a firm commitment to sustainability and a view to a more responsible future that favours the environment and society.

All this will enable companies in the Valencian Community to improve the efficiency of their synthesis and recycling processes, reduce production costs and improve the sustainability of their operations, thus improving their competitiveness. ACTECO, Laurentia Technologies, PICDA, UBE Corporation Europe, Omar Coatings and Curapath are allcollaborating on the project.

This project is funded by the Valencian Community’s Ministry forSustainable Economy, Production Sectors, Trade and Employment through grants from IVACE, and is co-funded by the European Union (ERDF) through the Valencian Community ERDF Operational Programme(2021-2027).

Back to Search Results

Publication date: 01/09/2023

European Plastic Product Manufacturer

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

The website reflects only the author's view. The Commission is not responsible for any use thay may be made of the information it contains.
Last update: 2022-01-31