New production technique for high-performance polymer could make for better body armor | 4/24/2017 | Staff
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A team of researchers has found a new way to produce a polymer material called PBO, a product known commercially as Zylon that's used in bulletproof vests and other high-performance fabrics. The new approach could be useful in making PBO products that resist degradation, a problem that has plagued PBO-based materials in the past.

"We show that using a nanoparticle catalyst, we can produce PBO in more environmentally friendly conditions and without using a chemical that's known to cause these materials to degrade unexpectedly," said Shouheng Sun, a professor of chemistry at Brown University and co-author of a new paper describing the research. "We think this could be a path toward making more robust PBO materials."

Research - Journal - Matter

The research is described in the journal Matter.

The traditional way to make PBO (its full name is polybenzoxazole) involves the use of polyphosphoric acid (PPA) as both a catalyst for necessary chemical reactions and as a solvent. PPA is a strong, highly corrosive acid and has been pinpointed as the source of PBO degradation. Molecules of the acid become lodged in the polymer chain, leaving the fibers susceptible to degradation when exposed to light and moisture over time. That degradation has led to the recall of PBO-based body armor in the past.

Sun - Lab - Brown - Nanoparticle - Catalysts

Sun's lab at Brown has been working extensively with composite nanoparticle catalysts capable of performing the new reactions required to make PBO, and they do so without using PPA. Catalyzing the reactions with nanoparticles would also require less energy and can be performed using renewable formic acid as a hydrogen source. All of that makes the production process greener.

Up to now, however, composite nanoparticle catalysts have largely been used to make only small organic molecules. Whether a composite catalyst, which in this case is made from particles of gold and palladium alloys,...
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