University of Arizona researchers have developed a way to turn sulfur – the byproduct of fossil fuel refining – into a
Elastomer Out of Sulfur
In total, 70 million tons of sulfur pile up each year globally, and storage is a major problem for the oil and gas industry. To manage the load, fossil fuel companies continually search for high-value chemical products that can be made with the sulfur.
The UArizona team has created a
out of sulfur. The material is rubbery, elastic and moldable compared to stiffer plastics. Other types of thermoplastics are used to make the cushy grips on items such as power tools, pens and toothbrushes.
"We are still in the early developmental stages, but this is the first demonstration of a polymer (or plastic) with these properties,
" said Jeff Pyun, a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, who led the team that developed the new material.
The researchers' work was funded by one of Italy's largest oil companies, Eni, which partnered with the University of Arizona to develop and translate the technology.
Low-cost Flame-retardant Plastics
Pyun doesn't claim that sulfur plastics are a "green" solution but said that "anything that we can do that makes this current petroleum refining process even a little bit more sustainable has a big impact, because we're working with such enormous volumes."
The sulfur plastic created by Pyun and his team is
instead of burning and creating heat and smoke.
"It really stands out for this reason, because almost all plastics are flammable
," Pyun said. "Most plastics today are very cheap and have excellent mechanical properties that can be tunable over a broad range of products from automobile engine parts to rubber tires, but they're flammable. Plastics that have really good properties and are flame retardant, such as this one, are very expensive. What we eventually want are plastics that are low-cost, with good properties, and are flame retardant.
In the future, Pyun and his team hope to make a whole new class of
that can be used in even more products. They are working with Tech Launch Arizona, the technology commercialization arm of the University of Arizona, to patent and license their invention to take it to the marketplace.
Complete Flame-retarded Plastic RangeSource: University of Arizona