NEC Develops 'Bioplastic' that Can Change Shape
Jun 24, 2004
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An NEC Corp. research unit has developed a new vegetable-based plastic that is said to have the ability to "remember" and change shape.

The material is also highly biodegradable because it dissolves easily underground. More and more plastics are being used in computers and other products, eventually leading to problems of disposal of massively produced waste. The newly developed plastic may be one way to solve this problem.

NEC's Fundamental and Environmental Research Laboratories in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, made the breakthrough. The company is developing the new plastic for use in computers and hopes to include it in devices that can change shape in accordance with users' wishes, such as computers shaped like rings or even eyeglasses.

About 93 percent of the "bioplastic" is made from vegetable resin. One of its features is an ability to remember shapes, and it returns to its original shape if heated to 60 degrees Celsius. Plastic products change shape if dented or placed in a hot environment. The new plastic can return easily to its original shape when heated with a dryer.

Researchers said that when heated to 160 degrees Celsius, its original memory is lost. It can be used again, however, if cooled into a new shape, which it will remember. This "ever-changing" potential is due to an addition to the connection between plastic molecules, called a "bridge," needed for shape memories.

A memory-type plastic is already in use in textiles to produce shirts that retain their shape, and dissolvable plastic is used for plastic bottles and computer boards. However, the memory-type plastic cannot remember other shapes because its bridge is fixed, and the dissolvable plastic cannot remember shapes because it has no bridge.

The NEC research unit has managed to overcome these disadvantages by introducing technologies for the bridge to be destroyed -- or not -- according to temperature, and as the plastic is made from vegetable matter, it can easily be dissolved in the ground, the researchers said. (The Japan Times)

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