Scientists recycle plastic waste into superhydrophobic textiles using low-cost, dip-coating method; process dissolves PS, adds silicon dioxide nanospheres, then immerses cotton textile into mixture producing a functional material for oil, water separation

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HONG KONG , October 13, 2022 (press release) –

Because plastic pollution is a growing problem and a major environmental concern, scientists are working on a variety of ways to recycle waste plastic materials. A research team has successfully recycled common plastic waste into highly functional materials using a low-cost, dip-coating method.

Using the new method, researchers dissolved plastic waste and then added silicon dioxide nanospheres. When they dipped cotton textiles into the mixture, the result was a highly functional textile that can selectively separate oil/water mixtures, withstand various harsh conditions, and exhibit a self-cleaning property.

This team, led by Professor Hua Zhang from City University of Hong Kong, has published their work on Mar. 19 in Nano Research.

Humans use and discard a tremendous amount of plastic waste. The plastics in commonly used, discardable items, like cups, bowls, plates, packing materials, and grocery bags, do not naturally decompose easily. Over time, the continued accumulation of waste plastics in the environment could prove fatal for animals on land and in the sea. Microplastic particles that result from the waste plastic are a danger to humans because they can enter a person’s body by being inhaled or consumed with food or drinking water. The plastic waste problem is a major public health threat.

In the past, people have disposed of plastic waste through incineration and landfills. But these disposal methods cannot solve the plastic pollution problem. More recently, scientists have developed polymers that can decompose, as a substitute for traditional plastics. They have also attempted to speed up the decomposition process through bio- and catalytic methods. But these methods have not gained wide acceptance and use, because of their high cost, low yield, and technical difficulties.

The research team decided to approach the problem by working to directly recycle the plastic waste into functional materials, thereby easing the strain on the environment of plastic waste going into incinerators or landfills.

The team turned their attention to superhydrophobic materials. With their ability to repel water, these materials show strong promise in applications ranging from water remediation to self-cleaning surfaces to anti-corrosion to anti-icing. Traditionally, fabricating superhydrophobic materials required expensive and complicated processes. But the research team set out to demonstrate that plastic waste could be a promising candidate as an alternative raw material for the low-cost preparation of superhydrophobic materials. Working toward that goal, the research team developed a facile dip-coating method to recycle plastic waste and then use it as a raw material to prepare a novel superhydrophobic textile.

To conduct their research, they used polystyrene, one of the mostly used plastic material in everyday objects such as food containers and coffee cups. They dissolved the polystyrene food containers and then added silicon dioxide nanospheres. Next they immersed a cotton textile into the mixture. Once the dipped textile dried, the result was a polystyrene/silicon dioxide-coated textile. The silicon dioxide nanospheres gave the surface of the textile a certain roughness. The newly created material is highly functional. “Impressively, it also shows an excellent resistance towards harsh environments, such as corrosive solutions, high temperature treatment, and mechanical abrasion,” said Professor Hua Zhang, principal investigator.

Looking to the future, the researchers see potential application for the coated textiles in processes where oil/water mixtures are separated. “In addition, the textile exhibits the self-cleaning property and the capability to be dyed and preserve its colour, making it a promising material for developing self-cleaning wearable fabric materials,” Zhang said.

The research team consists of Qinglang Ma from Beijing Institute of Technology and Nanyang Technological University, and Zhiying Wu, Vlad Andrei Neacsu, Sai Zhao, Yu Chai and Hua Zhang from City University of Hong Kong.


About Nano Research 

Nano Research is a peer-reviewed, international and interdisciplinary research journal, sponsored by Tsinghua University and the Chinese Chemical Society. It offers readers an attractive mix of authoritative and comprehensive reviews and original cutting-edge research papers. After more than 10 years of development, it has become one of the most influential academic journals in the nano field. Rapid review to ensure quick publication is a key feature of Nano Research. In 2020 InCites Journal Citation Reports, Nano Research has an Impact Factor of 8.897 (8.696, 5 years), the total cites reached 23150, and the number of highly cited papers reached 129, ranked among the top 2.5% of over 9000 academic journals, ranking first in China's international academic journals.

About Tsinghua University Press

Established in 1980, belonging to Tsinghua University, Tsinghua University Press (TUP) is a leading comprehensive higher education and professional publisher in China. Committed to building a top-level global cultural brand, after 41 years of development, TUP has established an outstanding managerial system and enterprise structure, and delivered multimedia and multi-dimensional publications covering books, audio, video, electronic products, journals and digital publications. In addition, TUP actively carries out its strategic transformation from educational publishing to content development and service for teaching & learning and was named First-class National Publisher for achieving remarkable results.

Nano Research


Recycling plastic waste into multifunctional superhydrophobic textiles


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