Sustainable polymers derived from plant oils

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

Global plastics production is still dominated by petrochemical based polymers; however it is well established that crude oil is not a sustainable resource. Therefore as a society we must begin to move towards a circular economy driven by renewable energy and resources and a key to this is the development of biopolymers. Biopolymers is a blanket term that covers both bio-based polymers and biodegradable polymers, where bio-based polymers are polymers derived from renewable biomass sources and biodegradable polymers are polymers capable of being decomposed (though they can be petrochemical or bio-based). This proposal will focus on the synthesis of bio-based polymers as a sustainable alternative to petrochemical based polymers. As with any emerging technology the key to the success of bio-based polymers is the ability to produce materials of comparable quality to those made from conventional methods in a cost-effective manner. It should be noted that whilst the development of sustainable feedstocks addresses the issue of the source of our polymers, attention should be paid to the processing and end-of-life of these materials. Processes that are dependent on the use of toxic agents and materials that have no thought paid to their end-of-life disposal are simply substituting one problem for another and are not addressing the overall goal of developing more sustainably produced polymers.

In this project monomers will be extracted from the plant oils via direct transesterification, thereby avoiding complex multistep chemical reactions that do not adhere to green chemistry or circular economy principles. Following this the monomers will be polymerised using a controlled radical polymerisation (CRP) technique. CRP techniques are advantageous as they can polymerise a wide variety of monomers and produce a range of compositions and polymer architectures. One such CRP technique is RAFT (reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer) polymerisation, a technique that has been demonstrated to be versatile and enables good control over molecular weights and dispersity, which can improve the polymers properties and performance. The process also enables a range of structures to be produced including well defined copolymers.

Polymers synthesised will be investigated for their use in applications such as biomedical, laundry and personal care products (e.g. hair care and cosmetics) as well as adhesives and coatings.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/T518098/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2025
2585422 Studentship EP/T518098/1 30/06/2021 31/12/2024 Oliver Harris