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Training of Innovative, Creative and Entrepreneurial Researchers in Waterborne Dispersed Polymers

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - TRACKWAY (Training of Innovative, Creative and Entrepreneurial Researchers in Waterborne Dispersed Polymers)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

TRACKWAY aimed at training the next generation of creative, entrepreneurial and innovative researchers combining projects at the frontline of the research in functional dispersed polymers with interdisciplinary training in transferable and specialized skills. Based on the synergetic collaboration between BASF, a leading industry in dispersed polymers and POLYMAT, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), a reputed academic institution in the field, the research programme faced the challenge of innovation for creating new waterborne dispersed polymers with new functionalities and lower environmental impact. In particular, it aimed at developing intrinsically autonomous self-healing coatings, waterborne adhesives with controlled temperature responsiveness, and non-leaching exterior coatings that will avoid the leaching of surfactants into the environment. The research program was complemented with training in basic and industrially-relevant transferable skills and with exposure of the young researchers to different environments and ways of thinking beyond the consortium. The young researchers trained in this interdisciplinary and intersectorial programme were able to face the challenge of converting knowledge into useful, marketable and sustainable products, which will make them highly valuable by the large EU industry in this field as well as for many other industrial sectors and academia.
The project has been very fruitful and the milestones set at the beginning of the project have been fulfilled. The three ESRs have successfully concluded their research work. Two of them have defended their PhD Theses obtaining the maximum mark and the third one (already working for BASF) is going to defend her Thesis in the next months.
The outcomes of the project include 6 articles, 8 communications in scientific workshops, 3 presentations in congresses, 3 presentations to partners of the Industrial Liaison Program of POLYMAT and one EASE video with the outcomes of the project. In addition, one patent application has been deposited in the field of graftable surfactants. The intellectual property is shared between BASF and UPV/EHU and BASF will have exclusive rights for commercialization.
The mechanisms for self-healing using disulfides have been clarified. Waterborne coatings that combine strong mechanical properties at the service temperature and are healable at moderate temperatures have been developed. It has been demonstrated that the disulfide bonds play the role of the necessary evil as they are needed for self-healing, but they have significant negative consequences in terms of the mechanical properties of the polymer.

Production of thermoresponsive waterborne adhesives ready to be used as heat seal lacquers.

New graftable ASR surfactants that overcome the limitations of the conventional surfactants have been developed. One patent has been filed.

One important impact of the project has been the training of the recruited researchers that have been exposed to an interdisciplinary (polymer science, chemical engineering, surface science, nanotechnology, advanced polymer characterization...) and inter-sectorial (academic and industrial) program in the multicultural work atmosphere in both institutions. Two of them have already obtained a work contract at BASF. The third one decided to delay her incorporation to corporate life and stay longer in academia.

Furthermore, TRACKWAY project has contributed to strengthen the European Innovation capacity by the involvement of the industrial partner (BASF) and the academic partner (UPV/EHU) in the joint Industrial Doctorate Programme. Definitely, the project has opened the door to more industrial focalized research in the academia, and to a more basic research in the industry, and has been seen as profitable in both institutions. Last, but not least, the promotion of female researchers mainly in industry has also been pursued and achieved in this project.
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