Testing the biodegradation of engineered polymeric microparticles

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


Polymeric (plastic) microparticles are increasingly present in the environment. In particular, such microparticles are found in waste streams as a result of their inclusion within formulated products (for example home and personal care products such as hair/clothes conditioners and cosmetics). Currently, there exists no systematically designed tests to monitor the degradation of such microparticles in the environment - this project will address this gap and develop reliable and systematic methods to this effect for a wide range of microparticle types. A second aspect of this project will develop microparticles made from biodegradable polymers that match the characteristics of the current systems.

The project will aim to construct test methodologies that allow for monitoring the various characteristics of polymeric microparticles with time as they are placed within an environment to degrade them. For this purpose, we will first measure particle size, surface properties, and porosity over time. In addition, we will also monitor the evolution of the molecular weight and chemical composition of the polymers that form the particle cores. Combining all these characterisation techniques into one single biodegradation test will allow us to not only adapt the test for all kinds of polymeric microparticles but also to develop a deeper understanding of how the degradation process occurs for such systems. This will form a significant advance on the current test methodologies reported in the academic literature as they are mostly based on visually observing changes in these systems as they degrade over time.
In parallel, we will develop new polymeric microparticles made from polymers known to be easily biodegraded and aim to match the current characteristics of microparticles used in formulated products. In doing so, we hope to develop fully-biodegradable microparticle systems that can be included in current formulations without compromising the added value to the corresponding products.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022473/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2271870 Studentship EP/S022473/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Amna Khatun