Ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics

 

IBM discovers new class of ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics:

IBM discovers new class of ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics that could redefine almost every industry

IBM discovers new class of ultra-tough, self-healing, recyclable plastics that could redefine almost every industry

IBM Research announced this morning that it has discovered a whole new class of… plastics. This might not sound quite as sexy as, say, MIT discovering a whole new state of matter — but wait until you hear what these new plastics can do. This new class of plastics — or more accurately, polymers — are stronger than bone, have the ability to self-heal, are light-weight, and are 100% recyclable. The number of potential uses, spanning industries as disparate as aerospace and semiconductors, is dizzying. A new class of polymers hasn’t been discovered in over 20 years — and, in a rather novel twist, they weren’t discovered by chemists: they were discovered by IBM’s supercomputers.

One of the key components of modern industry and consumerism is the humble thermosetting plastic. Thermosetting plastics — which are just big lumps of gooey polymer that are shaped and then cured (baked) — are light and easy to work with, but incredibly hard and heat resistant. The problem is, once a thermoset has been cured, there’s no turning back — you can’t return it to its gooey state. This means that if you (the engineer, the designer) make a mistake, you have to start again. It also means that thermoset plastics cannot be recycled. Once you’re done with that Galaxy S5, the thermoset chassis can’t be melted down and reused; it goes straight to the dump. IBM’s new polymer retains all of a thermosetting plastic’s useful properties — but it can also be recycled.

IBM’s new class of polymers began life, as they often do in chemistry circles, as an accident. Jeannette Garcia had been working on another type of polymer, when she suddenly noticed that the solution in her flask had unexpectedly hardened. “We couldn’t get it out, We had to smash the flask with a hammer, and, even then, we couldn’t smash the material itself. It’s one of these serendipitous discoveries.” She didn’t know how she’d created this new polymer, though, and so she joined forces with IBM’s computational chemistry team to work backwards from the final polymer. Using IBM’s supercomputing might, the chemists and the techies were able to work back to mechanism that caused the surprise reaction.

Scanning electron microscope image of the new PHT polymer discovered by IBM Research

This new class of polymer is called polyhexahydrotriazine, or PHT. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1251484 – “Recyclable, Strong Thermosets and Organogels via Paraformaldehyde Condensation with Diamines”]. It’s formed from a reaction between paraformaldehyde and 4,4ʹ-oxydianiline (ODA), which are both already commonly used in polymer production (this is very important if they want the new polymer to be adopted by the industry). The end result shows very high strength and toughness, like other thermosets, but its heat resistance is a little lower than other thermosets (it decomposes at around 350C, rather than 425C).

Jeannette “Jamie” Garcia: One happy IBM Researcher

In short, then, IBM has created a new plastic that could impact a number of industries in a very big way. The advantages of self-healing, tough plastics are highly evident in the aerospace, transportation, and architecture/construction industries. Thermoplastics also play a big part in the electronics industry, from the low-level packaging of computer chips, through to the chassis of your smartphone. In all of these areas, recyclability and self-healing could be a huge boon. As Garcia says, “If IBM had this 15 years ago, it would have saved unbelievable amounts of money.” Not to worry, Jeannette — there’s still plenty of time for IBM to save (and make) billions of dollars with this new plastic.

 

 

Source:  extremetech.com

 

One trillion bit-per-second optical chip

IBM’s prototype 5.2 x 5 .8 mm Holey Optochip:

IBM unveils one trillion bit-per-second optical chip

IBM unveils one trillion bit-per-second optical chip

Last Thursday at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference in Los Angeles, a team from IBM presented research on their wonderfully-named “Holey Optochip.” The prototype chipset is the first parallel optical transceiver that is able to transfer one trillion bits (or one terabit) of information per second. To put that in perspective, IBM states that 500 high-def movies could be downloaded in one second at that speed, while the entire U.S. Library of Congress web archive could be downloaded in an hour. Stated another way, the Optochip is eight times faster than any other parallel optical components currently available, with a speed that’s equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users, if they were using regular 10 Mb/s high-speed internet. One of the unique features of parallel optic chips is the fact that they can simultaneously send and receive data. The Holey Optochip capitalizes on that feature, for its record-setting performance. The “Holey” in the name comes from the fact that the team started with a standard silicon CMOS chip, but bored 48 holes into it. These allow optical access to its inside back surface, where 24 separate receiver and transmitter channels are located – for a total of 48 channels. Each of those channels has its own dedicated VCSEL (vertical cavity surface emitting laser) and photodetector, which are used respectively for sending and receiving data. The chip is designed to be coupled to a multimode fiber array, via a microlens optical system.

The back of the IBM Holey Optochip, with lasers and photodectors visible through substrate...

The back of the IBM Holey Optochip, with lasers and photodectors visible through substrate holes All parts of the Optochip are made from commercially-available components, which should keep costs down on a production model. Also, the chip consumes less than five watts when operating – 20 of the devices could run on the power consumed by one 100-watt light bulb. “We have been actively pursuing higher levels of integration, power efficiency and performance for all the optical components through packaging and circuit innovations,” said IBM Researcher Clint Schow. “We aim to improve on the technology for commercialization in the next decade with the collaboration of manufacturing partners.”