A New Lightweight Material Stronger Than Steel

Plastics are often demonized, which is counterproductive to their potential. Though single-use plastics are certainly not environmentally friendly, we should not knock the environmental benefits of plastics that are used in appropriate long-term applications. As a material, plastic is marvellous: it is light, strong and easily moldable. Without plastics, we would not have been able to make the advances we have made in medicine, aviation, automobiles or electronics. And, unlike glass or steel, plastic takes very little energy to produce.


This month #asloves the new polymer development – 2DPA-1 – that was revealed by researchers at MIT:


Using a novel polymerization process, MIT chemical engineers have created a new material that is stronger than steel and as light as plastic, and can be easily manufactured in large quantities. The new material is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets, unlike all other polymers, which form one-dimensional, spaghetti-like chains. Until now, scientists had believed it was impossible to induce polymers to form 2D sheets.MIT News Office, February 2, 2022

The potential for this new material is huge, it could revolutionize the automobile, aviation, technology and construction industries – it has proven to be two times stronger than steel under load tests, with just one-sixth of the material bulk.


Their new polymerization process allows them to generate a two-dimensional sheet called a polyaramide. For the monomer building blocks, they use a compound called melamine, which contains a ring of carbon and nitrogen atoms. Under the right conditions, these monomers grow in two dimensions, forming disks. These disks stack on top of each other, held together by hydrogen bonds between the layers, which make the structure very stable and strong.

Another key feature of 2DPA-1 is that it is impermeable to gases. While other polymers are made from coiled chains with gaps that allow gases to seep through, the new material is made from monomers that lock together like LEGOs, and molecules cannot get between them.


This could allow us to create ultrathin coatings that can completely prevent water or gases from getting through… This kind of barrier coating could be used to protect metal in cars and other vehicles, or steel structures. We don’t usually think of plastics as being something that you could use to support a building, but with this material, you can enable new things. It has very unusual properties and we’re very excited about that.Michael Strano, MIT professor of chemical engineering


Though 2DPA-1 is still in the research stage, it gives hope as better more hardy plastic, means less inefficient plastic – Bravo!


Visit the MIT news site to learn more: https://news.mit.edu/2022/polymer-lightweight-material-2d-0202

Quotes courtesy MIT

Image credit: Christine Daniloff, MIT