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This quarter, the Molecular Foundry group at Berkeley Lab announced they created a plastic that can be recycled an infinite number of times. The US scientists published a study, in which they described how one can break down the PDK-based material at the molecular level and create new plastic out of it. Usually, previously-recycled plastic is lower quality, but each newly formed piece of the PDK plastic maintains its durability. Breaking down this plastic also only requires acid, making it easier to recycle than traditional plastic.

Yes, this material has thus far been confined to a lab. But that’s no excuse to ignore it! Here’s why it’s worth keeping a close eye on emerging developments like this:

💡(Re)building blocks. New innovations like this one promise to reimagine the building blocks of our physical world. Nelplast in Ghana reimagined roads by paving some with plastic-bag bricks. Omega reimagined the watch strap by making one out of ‘synthetic spider silk’. Berkeley Lab reimagined plastic right down to the molecular level! Can you target a societal staple, one we subconsciously expect to remain the same, that is ripe for reinvention? We know not all readers will have the resources, see our next point!

💡Concept to consumer-facing. We typically look at in-market innovations as signals of emerging trends, because it’s these that set customer expectations. But looking at academic concepts is another great way to glimpse the future. And even if you have a robust internal R&D department, remember Joy’s Law which states that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. And often, it’s only when your commercial vision is combined with what’s coming out of the laboratory that potential applications become clear. See how Ministry of Supply teamed up with MIT to adopt a completely new way of custom-tailoring sweaters. Which academic experiments could be repurposed to solve your customers’ pain points?