Plastics from Sugars: The preparation, processing and properties of compostable polymers from lignocellulosic biomass.

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry

Abstract

The 'plastic age' dominates to such an extent that it would be difficult to imagine life without them. Their manufacture is a growth industry with worldwide production exceeding 150 million tons per year. The most commonly used feedstocks are fossil fuels, with around 7% of worldwide oil and gas being consumed in plastics manufacture. Such resources, although technically renewable, are estimated to be depleted in the next hundred years. Aside from the problems with petrochemicals sustainability and supply, they are becoming increasingly costly. The disposal of waste plastics is also of concern as the majority go into landfill (where they are bulky and pervasive); the recycling of commodity plastics has also recently suffered an economic collapse. There is a clear need for home-compostable plastics which derive from renewable (but inexpensive) resources for commodity applications (packaging). Such materials are also of great interest for medical applications, provided they degrade to metabolites. The proposal focuses on the polymerisation of carbohydrates, derived from lignocellulosic biomass, to give highly functionalized and rapidly degradable plastics. Lignocellulosic biomass derives primarily from non-food crops such as fast growing trees (e.g. poplar or willow) or from grasses (e.g. switch grass). This proposal will use lignocellulosic biomass (i.e. it will not rely on crops such as corn or sugar beet) as the feedstock for plastics production. This is important because it will not deprive poorer communities of essential food crops. Specifically, the feedstocks will be D-glucose, a carbohydrate derived from both cellulose and hemicelluloses, which in turn constitute 55-85% of the plant mass. Such carbohydrates are highly attractive feedstocks for chemicals production as they are abundant, inexpensive and highly functionalised. They are also cost competitive with common petrochemicals and solvents. The plastics prepared in the proposal are 100% degradable and compostable, ultimately they are broken down in soil or in the body to give naturally occurring by-products. The new materials are targeted for use in a variety of applications, including being used in compostable packaging, in particular they will facilitate the disposal and home-composting profile of currently commercial degradable plastics. Furthermore, the degradation of the new materials will be exploited for specialized medical applications. Specifically, we will study the use of the polymers as scaffolds in tissue rengeration; the key advantage of the new materials are the unusual physical properties they display and the ability to fully degrade them in the body. The proposal will involve overcoming key technical barriers to the widespread production and use of the new materials. The new technologies to be developed include developing the preparation, properties, degradation profile and end uses/applications of the materials. The proposal involves collaborations between four academic groups across various discplines (Chemistry, Materials, BioEngineering and Biology at Imperial College London and in Chemistry at Nottingham University) and with two companies (Uhde Inventa Fischer and Bioceramic therapeutics).
 
Description Compostable Plastics
Amount £25,000 (GBP)
Organisation Imperial Innovations 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2012 
End 07/2012
 
Description Compostable Plastics
Amount £25,000 (GBP)
Organisation Imperial Innovations 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2012 
End 06/2012
 
Description EPSRC
Amount £115,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Knowledge Transfer Secondment Scheme (KTS) 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2010 
End 09/2011
 
Description collaboration with CSIRO, Melbourne 
Organisation Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Country Australia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Sponsorship of a PHD studentship working on new biobased materials
Collaborator Contribution see above:
Impact PHD student recruited (Dom Myers) and completed year 1 of study
Start Year 2013
 
Title BIMETALLIC CATALYTIC COMPLEXES FOR THE COPOLYMERISATION OF CARBON DIOXIDE AND AN EPOXIDE 
Description The present invention provides a novel catalyst of formula (I): wherein M is selected from Zn(H), Co(II), Mn(II), Mg(II), Fe(II), Cr(III)-X or Fe(III)- X, and the use thereof in polymerising carbon dioxide and an epoxide. 
IP Reference WO2009130470 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2009
Licensed Yes
Impact commercially sensitive but patent has been used to help form a spin-out company: econic technologies
 
Title Method of synthesising polycarbonates in the presence of a bimetallic catalyst and a chain transfer agent 
Description SEE TITLE 
IP Reference WO2013034750 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted
Licensed Yes
Impact COMMERCIALLY SENSITIVE INFORMATION BUT LICENSED TO ECONIC TECHNOLOGIES
 
Title Polymerization of a carbohydrate lactone 
Description PROCESS FOR POLYMERIZATION OF LACTONES DERIVED FROM CARBOHYDRATES 
IP Reference WO2009118538 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2009
Licensed No
Impact FOLLOW ON FUNDING RECIEVED, LICENSE NEGOTIATIONS IN PROGRESS
 
Description Demonstration Lecture at Lowther School Summer Fair - It's all about science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Lecture given at the summer fair of a local primary school - lots of enthusiasm from parents and children

see above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Invited and keynote lecture at 21 st Bioenvironmental Polymer Society Conference (Warwick) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Discussions with academics and industrialists

New collaboration formed with Michael Meier which resulted in a research exchange of Dr Mathias Winkler to Imperial College in 2014
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.beps.org/warwick.html
 
Description Lecture at the graduate school professional skills course for Imperial College London and MIT PG students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Discussions about an academic career and about entrepreneurship

see above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Outreach lecture at primary school 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Lecture with demonstrations to primary school children - KS 1

Children very much enjoyed the visit and expressed an enthusiasm to study science
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014