Chemistry and the Chemical Industry: A Practical Guide for Non-Chemists

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He underscores the means by which the ethical imperative, arising from the way the history of philosophy and the history of art are constructed, shows us how to respond to an already identified, even if unacknowledged, determinant other. This book, newly available in paperback, gathers essays written by Geoffrey Bennington since the death of his friend Jacques Derrida in Some answers will come this week, when a once-per-decade workshop organized by the US National Science Foundation attempts to survey which new areas are emerging. That expansion has been driven by advances in every aspect of polymer science, he says.

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Researchers have developed new methods to synthesize and analyse molecules, improved theoretical models and created mimics of polymers found in nature. At the same time, says Lodge, attitudes to the science have changed. No longer do universities dismiss polymer science as too dirty, practical and industrial for academia. It will need to be. Researchers have a growing toolbox of techniques with which to craft the chemical architecture of polymer strands, but they are often unable to predict whether the resulting compound will have the particular properties needed for, say, a membrane or a drug-delivery system.

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Meeting that challenge will demand a much deeper understanding of how the chemical structure of a polymer determines its physical properties, at every scale from nanometres to metres. Polymers are everywhere—and therein lies the problem. Polymers based on natural starch are already on the market; so too is synthetic polylactide PLA , which is made from lactide or lactic acid derived from biological sources, and which is found in products from tea bags to medical implants.

One hurdle is that they cost too much.

Chemistry and the Chemical Industry: A Practical Guide for Non-Chemists

Another is that the monomer building blocks of natural polymers tend to contain more oxygen atoms than are found in the fossil hydrocarbons of petroleum. Turning natural polymers into exact molecular matches for conventional ones takes some sophisticated chemistry. One alternative approach is to beef up sustainable polymers such as PLA by blending them with conventional polymers. This route typically has downsides, such as rendering some plastics less transparent.

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These additives cluster together to create spherical structures, which render PLA substantially tougher without reducing its transparency. It remains to be seen whether these sustainable polymers can be commercialized. Some researchers are pursuing another trick: rather than stringing together bioderived monomers, they are learning to use natural polymers directly.

Cellulose, for example, consists of glucose molecules strung together into chains, which in turn line up to form strong fibres, or fibrils, that make up the stiff cell walls of plants.

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Proponents say that these crystals could be used for applications such as strengthening composites, forming insulating foams, delivering drugs and providing a scaffold for tissue repair. Christoph Weder, director of the Adolphe Merkle Institute for nanoscience at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, says that it will take a lot more work to reduce costs and demonstrate unique advantages for sustainable polymers.

In a mixed-up world, polymers can restore some order. But they could have a much bigger impact in the future, says Lodge. It also requires much less space than using scrubbers, devices in which pollutants are trapped by chemical reactions. Membranes made from polymers are not only cheap to make at large scale, but can cover large areas without acquiring structural defects that let the wrong molecules pass through.

Gas-separation membranes are already used industrially to tease hydrogen and carbon dioxide from natural gas. But improved membranes could tackle harder tasks, such as distinguishing between the very similar hydrocarbons propane and propene. The datasets are also available as weekly exports. NL EN.

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