PCIAW® News: Chemical Recycling Breakthrough, Sikh Headwear Concerns, Infrared Fabric Signatures

Korean chemical research converts polymers into monomers

A team of researchers at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT) have made a breakthrough in chemical recycling for polymer textiles, inventing two new processes which sort and break down polymers to extract petroleum-grade monomers to be used in new plastic materials. The findings have been published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, and recycling plants in Korea are already looking at ways to utilise these new systems.

The first process uses chemistry to chemically remove the dye from polymer fibres which will not interact with other fibres, allowing easier and more accurate sorting as anything coloured is definitely not a polymer. The next process uses a low-temperature glycolysis reaction system to break down the polymers into petroleum-grade monomers, which can then be used to create a variety of other plastic materials, including polymer fibres.

Dr Cho, A researcher at KRICT, stated: “Recently, the garment industry has utilized transparent and clean post-consumer PET bottles to produce recycled polyester clothes. However, this method is not sustainable because the material cannot be repeatedly recycled. In contrast, our current technology would not be limited by the complexity of the constituent materials or the initial level of impurity in the waste. Whether the targeted materials are derived from petroleum directly or recycled from waste, the technology can repeatedly process most post-consumer textile streams. Thus it will help reduce waste in landfills and substantially achieve a circular economy in the plastic and textile industries.”

Read the full story on Phys.Org

Sikh organisations raise concerns after Indian Army purchases helmets

The Indian government has acquired 12,000 new helmets for its armed forces, but Sikh organisations disapprove of the request for Sikh soldiers to don the helmets.

In Sikh religious code wearing any headgear other than a turban or patka is forbidden, so wearing the new helmets which fully enclose the head would violate Sikh religious expression. Sikhs in the Indian military have previously compromised by wearing bullet-resistant patkas over the top of regular cloth patkas, but the Indian Minister for State Defence, Ajay Bhatt, has made comments encouraging Sikhs to wear helmets.

Bhatt stressed that Indian soldiers are often deployed in counter-terrorism operations, and in these hostile environments both bullet-resistant jackets and helmets are vital pieces of protective equipment. He also highlighted that pilots in aircraft must wear digitally enhanced helmets to operate modern aircraft and that Sikh pilots have been wearing Patka under these helmets with no issue thus far, implying that soldiers could be asked to do the same.

Read the full story on The Pioneer

MIT and University of Michigan develop infrared fibre signatures

MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the University of Michigan have collaborated on a project investigating the potential for using fibres with infrared signatures in the textile recycling process.

Since Massachusetts passed a law forbidding the disposal of textiles to landfill in 2022 organisations in the region have been seeking more recycling opportunities. A large and common obstacle is mixed-fibre fabrics, which must be separated into homogenous materials before they can be recycled. 

Many recycling plants rely upon labels and inaccurate assessments to determine fabric composition, but teams at MIT and UoM have produced a fibre which can reliably reflect a precise infrared wavelength, creating a unique electromagnetic signature inherent to the fabric.

To create the fibre 50 alternating layers of clear polymers are stacked and then pulled into a fibre, with each layer only being a few microns thick. These nanostructures are like fibre-optic wires, utilising internal reflection to reflect a precise wavelength of infrared light detectable by machines.

These infrared signatures can be used to catalogue fabrics and create a reference for the exact composition of the fabric, allowing machines to sort material accurately and efficiently. While the technology is currently too thick for weaveable fibres, it could still be used today for readable stitchings and research is already underway for thinning techniques.

Read the full story on MIT News

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