Thermal Depolymerization of Synthetic Rubber Wastes
University of Idaho Seed Grant
The proliferation of non-biodegradable, synthetic polymers and plastics has raised thornyquestions about their accumulation as waste. As plastics are often the basis for low-cost,disposable products, their accumulation becomes even more problematic. In recent decades,plastics have undergone great scrutiny for recycling and reuse. Two examples of rapidlyaccumulating synthetic polymer wastes are vehicle tires and disposable safety gloves at hospitalsand research facilities, where currently our only recourse for disposal is interment in a landfill.We will be investigating “depolymerization”, where with the careful heating of a polymerabove 400°C in an inert atmosphere, the chemical backbone begins to break-up or“depolymerize”. The goal of this project is the construction a proof-of-conceptimplementation for the thermal depolymerization of two high-value synthetic polymers:vehicle tires and nitrile gloves.This research project will support development of grant applications for NASA and theDepartment of Energy in the areas of carbon fiber production and biomass-or-waste-to-energyconversion. It will also serve as the basis for a senior design project within the Department ofChemical & Materials Engineering, in the College of Engineering, integration with the MSE434“Fundamentals of Polymeric Materials”, and student-led Sustainability Design Center projects.