Advanced Manufacturing for Sustainable Biodegradable Microbeads - BIOBEADS

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Chemistry

Abstract

In project BIOBEADS we propose to develop, in combination, new manufacturing routes to new products. Manufacturing will be based on a low-energy process that can be readily scaled up, or down, and the products will be biodegradable microbeads, microscapsules and microsponges, which share the performance characteristics of existing plastic microsphere products, but which will leave no lasting environmental trace. Using bio-based materials such as cellulose (from plants) and chitin (from crab or prawn shells), we will use continuous manufacturing methods to generate microspheres, hollow capsules and porous particles to replace the plastic microbeads currently in use in many applications.

Cellulose and chitin are biodegradable and also part of the diet of many marine organisms, meaning they have straightforward natural breakdown routes and will not accumulate in the environment. BIOBEADS will be produced using membrane emulsification techniques.

The project builds on our joint expertise in membrane emulsification for continuous production of tunable droplet sizes, dissolution of cellulose and chitin in green solvents and in characterization of nanoscale and microscale structures to study all aspects of particle formation from precursors, through formation processes, to degradation routes. Yhe primary focus will be spheres and capsules, for use in cosmetics and personal care formulations, but, by understanding the processes and mechanisms of formation of these spheres, we aim to be able to tailor particle properties to suit larger scale applications from paint stripping, to fillers in biodegradable plastics.

The BIOBEADS research team will work with industrial partners, including very large manufacturers of personal care products, to ensure that the research conducted can be taken up and used, so having a real, positive impact on the manufacturing of new, more sustainble products.

Planned Impact

BIOBEADS has been developed with the imminent exploitation of our outcomes in commercial activities as a major goal. The overarching idea is that development of the underpinning manufacturing processes will occur simultaneously with synthesis of novel biodegradable, tailorable and highly functional materials. We will work with industrial project partners, Unilever, Croda and Micropore Technologies, to ensure that our results are disseminated to relevant stakeholders who have potential to take the results forward for eventual commercialization. With both a UK SME and large multinationals engaged, the potential for impacting real future manufacturing is significant.
ECONOMIC IMPACT & UK COMPETITIVENESS: BIOBEADS' industrial partners will benefit directly from this project, through wider applicability and uptake of their technology (Micropore), or by gaining early access to potential new ingredients and biobased microspheres, capsules and microsponges to underpin development of more sustainable products and thus more sustainable industries (Croda, Unilever). The immediate opportunity in the UK is in the personal care and cosmetic products (PCCP) market where Croda and Unilever are major actors (worth >£16bn in 2015), with wider opportunities in fillers in the growing bioplastics market (while this is currently small, it is growing rapidly and globally demand for bioplastics for packaging are expected to grow to >2m t by 2020, with a value of $5 billion).
SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS: The replacement of plastic microbeads and capsules that are persistent in the environment with biodegradable BIOBEADS will have important environmental impacts by reducing the plastic load in the environment with follow-on effects of preserving marine and riverine environments, and avoiding incorporation of potentially deleterious components into the food chain. Funding has been requested in Pathways to Impact to independently validate the sustainability claims for the technology, usin Truecost to providing estimates of potential environmental impact reduction for the processes and products to be developed here.
THE WIDER MANUFACTURING COMMUNITY: The biodegradable capsules and microsponges, to be developed in BIOBEADs have clear opportunities in delivery of active pharmaceutical ingredients, foods, nutriceuticals, flavours and fragrances. As membrane emulsification allows production of narrow particle range materials, formulations containing well defined particle size distributions can provide sustained active ingredient release profiles and/or triggered release (in response to external stimuli). Such profiles can potentially provide greater efficacy than competitor products, e.g. in crop protection applications, which could offer a competitive advantage, increasing market share while decreasing environmental chemical load. Such 'smart' products assist UK based companies in competition with those who rely on low prices (e.g. by producing in low-wage economies). Thus, BIOBEADS has strong potential to add to UK manufacturing capability in biobased, biodegradable functional materials for formulated products. We have discussed the potential for BIOBEADS with Syngenta (agrochemicals) and AzkoNobel (paints and coatings) and these and other companies have expressed an interest. Thus, we plan to run two industry facing workshops, which will be used to disseminate our results beyond the current grant partners (following appropriate protection of any IP arising).
This grant will also provide training and networking opportunities to two PDRAs, an RA and PhD (funded by Bath), enabling them to launch their careers in this exciting, broad and rapidly growing field of manufacturing of sustainable products. The UK will therefore benefit from gaining trained researchers, and potentially licensable new technologies for biodegradable microbead, microsphere and microsponge production.
Finally, BIOBEADS is an excellent vehicle for engaging the public.

Publications

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Coombs OBrien J (2017) Continuous Production of Cellulose Microbeads via Membrane Emulsification in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering

 
Description We have developed a process for continuous production of cellulose microbeads as replacements for persistent plastic microbeads now banned in many countries (or soon to be banned) as a source of microplastic pollution.
We have positive outcomes in hand w.r.t. developing similar biopolymer based microcapsules.
Exploitation Route We are developing this process towards commercialisation via a spinout called Naturbeads Ltd., which is currently seeking investment to proceed to the next steps.
Sectors Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Other

 
Description There has been extensive publicity around our findings w.r.t. cellulose microbeads including many interviews on radio and tv and print (and online) media coverage. This has also led to a large number of invitations to speak at public events. The paper "Continuous Production of Cellulose Microbeads by Cross Flow Membrane Emulsification-Precipitation, ACS Sustainable Chem. & Eng., 2017, 5, 5931-5939" was covered in a University of Bath press release on 8 June 2017 (World Oceans Day) which resulted in wide coverage in the press and a number of radio and television interviews (readership/estimated viewers in parentheses) - a summary from the University of Bath Press Office includes: a. Radio: BBC Radio 4 Today (2.9 million reach); BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat, BBC Wales, BBC Pointswest; BBC World Service NewsHour & Newsday (421,000) b. TV: Sky News (1 million), c. Media (254 articles across online, broadcast and print outlets): The Times (451,000), iNews (266,000), Daily Mail (1.5 million), MailOnline (2 million) Daily Telegraph (472,000), The Chemical Engineer, Metro (890,000), Record (149,000) d. Estimated at 46 million total news reach e. £493,000 worth of Advertising Value Equivalent Coverage (growing) f. A number of video clips were published online, including: Reuters video: http://www.reuters.com/video/2017/07/04/eco-microbeads-producible-on-industrial?videoId=372018027; EurekaAlert (American Association for the Advancement of Science) video: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/uob-smb060617.php and others
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Other
 
Company Name NATURBEADS LTD 
Description The company is a new startup that is currently seeking investment capital. 
Year Established 2018 
Impact None yet.
 
Description Wide media engagement following a University of Bath press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact 71. The paper "Continuous Production of Cellulose Microbeads by Cross Flow Membrane Emulsification-Precipitation, ACS Sustainable Chem. & Eng., 2017, 5, 5931-5939" was covered in a University of Bath press release on 8 June 2017 (World Oceans Day) which resulted in wide coverage in the press and a number of radio and television interviews (readership/estimated viewers in parentheses) - a summary from the University of Bath Press Office includes:
a. Radio: BBC Radio 4 Today (2.9 million reach); BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat, BBC Wales, BBC Pointswest; BBC World Service NewsHour & Newsday (421,000)
b. TV: Sky News (1 million),
c. Media (254 articles across online, broadcast and print outlets): The Times (451,000), iNews (266,000), Daily Mail (1.5 million), MailOnline (2 million) Daily Telegraph (472,000), The Chemical Engineer, Metro (890,000), Record (149,000)
d. Estimated at 46 million total news reach
e. £493,000 worth of Advertising Value Equivalent Coverage (growing)
f. A number of video clips were published online, including: Reuters video: http://www.reuters.com/video/2017/07/04/eco-microbeads-producible-on-industrial?videoId=372018027; EurekaAlert (American Association for the Advancement of Science) video: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/uob-smb060617.php and others
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2017/06/16/biodegradable-microbeads-hit-the-headlines/