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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Supercritical carbon dioxide processing technology for biodegradable polymers targeting medical applications

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‘Green’ polymer processing for medical applications

EU funding enabled researchers to develop novel ‘green’ polymer processing technology for production of biocompatible and biodegradable medical devices.

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Polymers are compounds made of repeating subunits (monomers) linked together. They are present in nature as in, for example, the cellulose that makes up plant cell walls and lends fibre to our diets. They are also synthesised in laboratories and in industry for numerous applications including plastics used for packaging food and drinks. European researchers sought to develop biodegradable/bioabsorbable polymers of high consistency and quality for medical applications using supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) during processing. Supercritical CO2 is well established as a ‘green’ solvent (compound that dissolves another compound) in polymer applications and also enhances the processing itself through a variety of chemical interactions. EU funding of the Protec project enabled scientists to develop advanced process control technologies easily integrated with existing technologies including injection moulding or extrusion for production of the polymers. These techniques involve heating the material and melting it as it passes over a turning screw that ‘injects’ it into a mould shape or ‘extrudes’ it through a die. The former is like baking a cake, the latter like forming spaghetti. Investigators focused on establishing fundamental relationships between processing parameters and final part properties with an emphasis on exquisite control and reliability. In addition, the biodegradation profile was particularly important in defining process parameters as was understanding effects of sterilisation on material properties. The final demonstrator was a biodegradable rod for fixation of bone fractures. The demonstrator was subjected to a variety of tests to evaluate sterilisation effects, biocompatibility and biodegradation. Protec successfully developed ‘green’ polymer processing technology suitable for the medical technology industry. The process is compatible with current techniques and yields enhanced products at reduced costs.

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