Bio-based self-assembled polymers from renewable resources

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Materials


Polymers are one of the most widely used materials in our day to day lives and are used in so many different products. Some of these are obvious like commodity plastics used in packaging, and other less so, for instance in electronics, cosmetics, drug delivery, nanomedicine to name a few. Polymers provide solutions to many problems, but environmental concerns exist about both the source of polymer starting materials and their waste management at end of life. Most synthetic polymers generated today are made from fossil fuels using petroleum-derived chemical feedstocks. However, petroleum is a finite resource estimated to be depleted within the next 50 years. Therefore, one of the key challenges with polymer production is to move towards renewable resources for their manufacture.

For some applications precise control over the polymer architecture and composition is required and advanced polymer synthesis techniques can be used to achieve well-defined copolymer structures. Of interest here, block copolymers are polymers with distinct segments of differing composition. They can have interesting self-assembly behaviour when the blocks or segments have differing properties, with applications as adhesives, coatings, membranes, biomedical (e.g., drug delivery), lithography and nanoreactors. Due to advancements in polymer science in recent years, block copolymers are now being commercialised. However, these commercialised block copolymers are also derived from non-renewable petroleum feedstocks. Due to increased interest in block copolymers due to their interesting properties and use in value added application areas, and growing environmental concerns, the development of renewable block copolymers is an important challenge that this project will address.

In this project we will prepare new polymers from renewable resources, with tuneable properties, which can be used in a range of applications including biomedical (i.e., drug delivery), paints, adhesives, and personal care products. By using starting materials derived from biomass, the polymers will be prepared from renewable resources. We will investigate using naturally occurring biopolymers, and vegetable oils to prepare new polymers. Through varying the vegetable oil and biopolymer starting materials and the structures of the copolymers, properties of the block copolymers will be varied allowing for potential use in a broad range of applications. Throughout the development of the new copolymers sustainability will be also considered when choosing which reaction conditions to use.

In summary, this ambitious project will deliver new renewable block copolymers with well-defined structures using a combination of naturally occurring biopolymers and monomers extracted from renewable resources.


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