Fluoride Action Network

IBM researchers create new family of fluoropolymers

Source: Plastic News | August 4th, 2017 | By Michael Lauzon
Industry type: Chemical Industry

IBM researchers have found a new family of fluoropolymers that one day could by used in advanced electronics and medical devices.

Fluoropolymers today find wide use in industrial and consumer applications that capitalize on their low coefficient of friction and resistance to water, chemicals and heat. New fluoropolymers discovered by IBM researchers contain a sulfur compound not present in conventional fluoropolymers first found by accident in 1938 by DuPont Co. chemist Roy Plunkett.

At IBM’s Almaden laboratories in San Jose, Calif., researchers combined benchtop chemistry and computer-aided quantum chemistry to come up with fluorinated poly arylthioethers, a new class of polymers distantly related to fluoropolymers, polyethers and polysulfides.

The discovery was made during searches for exotic materials useful to IBM’s work in life sciences and advanced materials.

“It was part of a larger program to get different polymers,” said IBM researcher Nathaniel Park in a phone interview.

“It worked a lot better than I expected,” Park recalled. The chemists were trying out different routes to make such exotic materials that did not rely on direct polycondensation, a well-known route to thermoplastic polyesters, nylon and many other polymers.

Park said newly discovered reactions occurred much faster — orders of magnitude quicker than typical polycondensations. The new materials were created in seconds at room temperature versus up to 18 hours for conventional routes to make them. Moreover, the reactions were highly efficient and needed only small amounts of catalyst.

Park led the teams conducting the research and was the lead author for a paper published Aug. 1 in Nature Communications. Several scientists with IBM and Florida State University collaborated in the effort.

“There is definite interest in medical and electronic applications,” said IBM researcher Gavin Jones, in a phone interview. Advanced coatings, optics and lubricants are other potential markets.

Park said the workers did not spend much time investigating the physical properties of the new polymers in their yearlong study, but others are expected to carry the studies in that direction. He said he is interested in partnering with a resin or chemical company to explore the commercial utility of the new materials.

“We can collaborate closely with computational chemists to rationally design new catalysts and processes,” Park explained. “Computational modeling of chemical reactions helps us understand and quickly fine-tune new chemical processes.”

IBM’s Almaden laboratory is a hotbed of polymer research. Jones, for example, was part of a team that announced a year ago that they found new, cheaper catalysts to make biopolymers.

The most basic fluoropolymer is polytetrafluoroethylene, given the Teflon trade name by DuPont soon after its discovery. PTFE’s enticing properties led chemists to develop a wide range of other fluoropolymers using exotic monomers such as perfluorocycloalkene and hexafluoropropylene.

*Original article online at http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20170804/NEWS/170809937/ibm-researchers-create-new-family-of-fluoropolymers