IBM’s “Indestructible” Thermosetting Polymer: Polyhexahydrotriazine (PHA)

Jeannette “Jamie” Garcia is the researcher credited with discovering a virtually indestructible, recyclable, Nitrogen-based polymer known as “polyhexahydrotriazine” (PHT); though behind its existence, lies an accident. As the by-product of ambitious experimentation, PHT made its appearance when a reagent was left out of a beaker that held the ingredients for observing a random polymeric reaction.

A show of its resilience and robustness was evident early on as the container had to be smashed to extricate the hardened lump. Even then, the researchers were unable to harm the solidified PHT specimen.

Once thoroughly investigated, this preliminary form of the thermoset polymer was taken to IBM where the power of its supercomputers was leveraged in conjunction with lab experiments to adopt a ‘back to the source’ approach. During these trials, several thousand polymeric combinations and reactions were simulated to replicate the thermoset materials and structures found in polyhexahydrotriazine.

An estimate of the scope of PHT use in industries has already been pegged at billions of dollars. Until now, scientists were unsure how to recycle polymers and other thermoset plastics.

What is a Thermoset Polymer?

Thermosetting polymers (or plastics) are prepolymer materials that cure irreversibly. Polyhexahydrotriazine differs from other members of its family due to the following capabilities:

  • Tolerating high stress– When mixed with carbon fillers it can resist repeated onslaughts of duress thus providing the transportation industry with a class of plastics worth investing in.
  • Forming spontaneous bonds between polymeric links– Combining PHT with Polyhemiaminal (PHA) creates an incredibly strong bond which can be used in various adhesive applications.
  • Reverting to viscous state when dipped in sulphuric acid– As a result, pliability is regained and damaged or discarded parts can be remolded into useful products.

PHT Uses

Polyhexahydrotriazine (PHT) offers an array of commercial and industrial uses due to its strength, weight, and ability to be recycled.

The automotive industry could see benefits from utilizing this lightweight and durable composite in manufacturing panels for cars and trucks. Lighter weight means higher performance, speed, and cost-efficiency,

Aerospace divisions are intrigued by the material and may soon develop wings and other body parts for aircraft use. Using PHT in combination with PHA could form high strength bonds for adhering parts that incur harsh environmental conditions.

Semiconductors comprised of PHT can take advantage of its recyclability. Defective or broken chips could be tweaked and reworked rather than trashed and wasted. This would also amount to cost and waste reduction.


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