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REnewable FunctIoNal matErial – Training material scientists for a sustainable polymer industry

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Green technology for functional materials

Transition from fossil-based raw materials to renewables is a key challenge for the coming decades. An EU-funded project is developing sustainable routes to functional materials for various polymer applications.

Industrial Technologies icon Industrial Technologies

Currently, Europe's plastics industry relies heavily on petrochemical-derived raw materials. Biotechnology is a key enabler of the shift towards a sustainable chemical industry in which oil dependency and the environmental impact of feedstock production will be minimised. However, green technologies concerning raw materials, synthesis and processing should be separately investigated and then combined in an integrated approach. With EU funding of the project 'Renewable functional material – Training material scientists for a sustainable polymer industry' (REFINE), researchers are developing new sustainable materials and methodologies. The integrated approach will be complemented by critical life-cycle assessment analysis and end-user benchmarking. REFINE will demonstrate these concepts by targeting selected relevant industrial applications that fundamentally depend on polymers such as thin-film applications. REFINE targets the use of existing building blocks stemming from forestry and waste for high-performance polymers. In particular, it has focused on three types of renewable monomers: terpenes, sorbitol and sugar. Researchers have shown that these diverse platform materials allow obtaining a range of functional polymers and materials for coating and latex applications. Studies have demonstrated success with lipase-based routes to polyesters that are one of the largest commercial green polymers. Except for lipase and cutinase enzymes, REFINE focuses on designing and optimising new enzymes to synthesise and modify polymers through biotechnology. Furthermore, green reaction solvents such as supercritical carbon dioxide and ionic liquids are being investigated as polymerisation and processing media in addition to green polymer additives. Project studies have revealed that efficient renewable surfactants can be obtained from the sorbitol monomer. Compared to traditional surfactants, these were found to be more eco-friendly. Researchers obtained positive results from attempts to immobilise lipases on renewable carriers derived from waste products such as rice husk and nutshells. These have the potential to replace traditional carriers as an inexpensive, stable and highly active enzymatic platform suitable for application in polymer synthesis. REFINE is expected to make significant breakthroughs in renewable raw materials and bio-synthesis. In addition, it contributes to decreasing energy costs, harmful emissions and product time to market.


Functional materials, renewables, polymer, raw materials, biotechnology

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