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Exploring sustainable approaches to thermoset recycling utilising thermoactivated bond exchange reactions of vitrimers

ABG-100579 Thesis topic
2021-10-14 Public funding alone (i.e. government, region, European, international organization research grant)
Monash University
Melbourne - Australia
Exploring sustainable approaches to thermoset recycling utilising thermoactivated bond exchange reactions of vitrimers
  • Engineering sciences
  • Open to all scientific expertises
  • Materials science
vitrimer, plastic, recycling, sustainable, chemistry, rheology

Topic description

Thermosets are valuable materials with growing applications in all aspects of life. Many industries such as automotive and aerospace, for instance, are increasingly depending on thermosets for the myriad of structural, mechanical, thermal and chemical benefits they offer, thanks to their covalently crosslinked networks. Although the robust nature of thermosets is advantageous for these demanding environments, this also creates a formidable challenge for the reprocessing and recycling of such materials. As a result, only small quantities of these materials can be converted into similar value products. Instead, while some thermoset systems can be down cycled into lower value products, most are incinerated, landfilled or leaked into the environment.

However, the earth’s resources are finite, and the permanent loss of these materials are not viable in the long term. In efforts to create a more sustainable future – where these valuable materials can be retained in the supply chain – both in terms of economic and environmental development, technological advancements are necessary in order to strike a balance between material functionality and responsible innovation.

Discovered in 2011 by the physicist, Ludwik Leibler, vitrimers are a new class of thermosetting polymer. Thanks to thermoactivated transesterification reactions between ester and hydroxyl functionalities, at elevated temperatures vitrimers undergo associative bond exchange reactions (BERs). The advantage of these BERs is that under the influence of heat, their thermal and mechanical properties can be moulded, which introduces the possibility of self-healing, reprocessing and even recycling. In addition, in the absence of heat, these interactions are immeasurably slow and effectively frozen, meaning that they behave like conventional thermosets, retaining their highly desirable properties.

Under certain conditions, conventional thermosets can be transformed into vitrimers through the use of a catalyst. This presents an opportunity to introduce a more widespread, viable and sustainable approach to the use and reuse of thermoset systems. This project aims to explore approaches to the reprocessing and recycling of thermoset and composites waste, by harnessing the benefits of associative BERs and exploring efficient strategies for maintaining the value of thermoset systems, and their desirable properties, after its life cycle.  ­Experiments will be conducted to study the capacity for this vitrimer-based composite in shape morphing, self-healing, and recyclability. Also, the performance of these new material systems in harsh environmental conditions (e.g., temperature cycling, humidity, etc.) will be investigated.

This project will have potential for publications in very high impact factors journals and might bring couple of opportunity to involve Industry on the recyclability of polymers and composite materials. 

Starting date


Funding category

Public funding alone (i.e. government, region, European, international organization research grant)

Funding further details

Presentation of host institution and host laboratory

Monash University

This PhD research will be based at Monash University in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The Department of Materials Science and Engineering is committed to promoting equality and diversity, including the Athena SWAN charter for promoting women’s careers in STEMM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) in higher education.

Candidate's profile

The candidate should have a degree in materials science, physics, chemical engineering, or mechanical engineering. The present project covers several areas of material science, including fundamental studies, synthesis, characterisation (physico-chemical and mechanical) and processing. The candidate should be adaptable, curious and opened to this kind of multidisciplinary project. Strong skills and interest in experimental work will be required. A multidisciplinary formation in physics and chemistry would be a real advantage.

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