Gamma-butyrolactone: Biodegradable Polymers & Recyclable Plastics?

Some Background on Gamma-butyrolactone

Gamma-butyrolactone is a colorless, oily liquid with distinctive stale water like taste and a burnt plastic like odor. This molecule is commonly referred to as GBL.  Gamma-butyrolactone is used in two ways: in industrial products and as recreational drugs for humans. Industrially, Gamma-butyrolactone is part of the process in production of floor strippers, glue removers, cleaners, nail varnish removers, thinners, pesticides, herbicides, inks, dyes, and other industrial products. The molecule is also known as a “Rave Party Drug” which intensifies euphoric sociability and party experience. Gamma-butyrolactone or GBL is not an authorized medicine or drug by World Health Organization (WHO). Governments regard the substance as harmful and life-threatening among users.

 What is a Polymer?

In a nutshell, a polymer is a repeated chain of smaller molecules known as monomers. For instance, GBL as discussed above is an example of a monomer. There are both natural & synthetic  polymers. DNA for instance is actually a biopolymer (meaning present in a living organism). Synthetic polymers include plastics such as polystyrene, neoprene and nylon & rubber such as neoprene.

Recyclable and Biodegradable Polymers 

Recently, the scientific community has been researching and looking to discover new methods of creating polymers. Not just any type of polymers, but those that are completely recyclable and biodegradable. This would be highly desirable given the huge amount of non-biodegradable plastics produced annually; estimated to be at least 1 billion tons per year!

Recently, a new article has come out discussing that a breakthrough has been made and that a fully recyclable and biodegradable polymer has been demonstrated. The monomer of GBL, previously thought to be non-polymerizable, demonstrated that it could be processed to become a polymer, named poly(GBL). Not only that, but it could be then processed to be completely converted back into the original monomer.

“This work established relationships between the poly(GBL) structure and its thermal and dynamic mechanical properties, and it demonstrated the complete thermal recyclability of poly(GBL) back into its monomer, which thereby opens up unique opportunities for discovering new sustainable (renewable and recyclable) biomaterials based on the ROP (ring-opening polymerization) of other five-membered lactones,” Prof. Chen and Ms Hong said. To read the full article click here.

You can also view some of our really big polymer molecular models for teaching:
Atactic Polypropylene
Isotactic Polypropylene

Make your own molecular model of Gamma-butyrolactone or any of the other molecules mentioned on this page using our 3D Molecular Model Builder.

GBL Molecule Monday

About Stephan Logan

VP Sales & Marketing at Indigo Instruments. Previously sold hi tech science instruments to researchers. B.Sc. & M.Sc. from McGill University.

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