Plastic Challenge


Making epoxy resins recyclable

Minister Harris announces 15 teams set to compete for SFI Future Innovator Prizes of €2 million

Competitions focus on sustainable solutions in the area of food waste and plastics.

The PEM Research Centre are delighted that one of our Principal Investigators Ioannis Manolakis and his team members Angeliki Chanteli, PhD (UL) and Marcus Ó Conaire (Údarás na Gaeltachta) have been shortlisted as one of the teams to compete in the Science Foundation Ireland future innovators prizes of €2million

Five teams have been shortlisted under the SFI Food Challenge and 10 under the SFI Plastics Challenge. At the end of the 12-month programme, two overall winners will be announced.

The SFI Future Innovator Prize is a challenge-based prize funding programme that seeks to support Ireland’s best and brightest, to develop novel, potentially disruptive, technologies to address significant societal challenges. On this occasion, it is about tackling food and plastic waste.


Making epoxy resins recyclable

Challenge Epoxy resins are thermoset polymer materials, very widely used in modern society. Epoxy adhesives, plastic parts made from epoxy resins, and epoxy-based

fibre-reinforced polymer composites are found in all major economy sectors (e.g. construction, transport, food, energy, electronics, leisure) globally.  Epoxies show exceptional properties (adhesion, mechanical performance, chemical & thermal stability). However, due to the irreversible curing chemistry needed to form the thermoset polymer network, epoxies cannot be recycled or re-shaped under heat, or

re-processed/re-worked in any other way, or be repaired/self-repair after suffering any damage. The possibility of obtaining epoxy products with all their known performance attributes, and with added malleability/recyclability and therefore improved end-of-life properties would constitute a major breakthrough in plastics technology and recycling.

Solution Target the design of novel epoxy polymer networks that combine the well-known and highly sought properties of epoxies, but at the same time are dynamic: possible to re-shape and re-process as thermoplastics. We aspire to realise such novel dynamic epoxy polymer networks by synthesising a range of suitable amine curing agents with a pre-existing dynamic bond in their structure. When using such novel dynamic epoxies as composite matrices, the composite laminates would not only be possible to re-shape and re-process, but also to recycle at their end-of-life: separate fibres from the epoxy polymer matrix, recover pristine fibres for subsequent reuse in composite manufacturing, and re-use the recovered matrix in appropriate applications (e.g. as an adhesive). The novelty of our approach relates to a universal modification strategy potentially applicable to any given epoxy resin, a large collection of amine cross-linker structures to match each different epoxy, and the option to tailor either cleavage of the dynamic bonds (for recycling) or exchange reactions between the dynamic bonds (for re-processing).  


UN SDG Alignment GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 


Team Ioannis Manolakis (IT Sligo), Angeliki Chanteli (UL), Marcus Ó Conaire (Údarás na Gaeltachta)