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NOVEL GREEN POLYMERIC MATERIALS FOR MEDICAL PACKAGING AND DISPOSABLES TO IMPROVE HOSPITAL SUSTAINABILITY

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GREEN-MAP (NOVEL GREEN POLYMERIC MATERIALS FOR MEDICAL PACKAGING AND DISPOSABLES TO IMPROVE HOSPITAL SUSTAINABILITY)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2022-12-31

The ultimate research goal of the GREEN-MAP project is to enable a circular economy within the disposable medical device industry. The use of single-use, disposable medical devices is growing rapidly with uptake of laparoscopic, robotic, and other minimally invasive procedures. These devices and—importantly—their packaging, result in a surge of plastic waste from hospitals. Further, the existing plastics used are neither sustainable nor biodegradable. In this project, we will develop novel bio-based, biodegradable polymers that can be used in medical device packaging, as well as for disposable medical devices/components.
Key innovative elements include:
1) use of bio-based monomers (vegetable oil), representing value added to existing biodiesel refining,
2) green chemistry approach, using enzymes and alternative, low-impact catalysts,
3) biodegradable polymer systems (copolymers and/or blends) with highly tunable properties (mechanical, optical, barrier, bio/hemocompatibility).

By combining renewable, bio-based monomers with biodegradability via industrial composting and/or anaerobic digestion and bioconversion, we will enable a sustainable path for the disposable medical device market—expected to double by 2023—ultimately leading to a circular economy. In this way, the project will help tackle major global societal challenges including climate change, plastic pollution, and waste management, while enabling further growth and advances in healthcare.

The specific research and innovation objectives of the GREEN-MAP project are:
1) Scouting potential bio-based, vegetable-oil (VO) derived monomers for polyester synthesis, representing value added to existing biodiesel refining,
2) Synthesizing a library of poly(butylene succinate)/VO copolymers and other polyesters with tunable properties,
3) Preparing blends and composites of the new polymers with commercially available bio-based, biodegradable polymers and additives (e.g. melanin),
4) Studying the effects of copolymer and blend composition on processing and functional properties,
5) Assessing the environmental impacts and socio-economic values of new green products and processes for Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment and to set new directions on the roadmap to improve hospital sustainability.

Accomplishing the ambitious goals of the project will only be possible by forming a new collaborative intersectional and international research network. Participation within the project will directly lead to diversification of skills, both research-related and transferable ones, leading to improved employability and career prospects both in and outside academia. The innovative and synergistic environment fostered by consortium, and especially the secondments can lead to the development of new devices, new procedures, etc., representing potential added value of the collaboration network. International and intersectoral mobility guarantees high level and effective sharing of new knowledge.
In a fist reporting period, a library of bio-based and vegetable-oil (VO) derived monomers was selected for the synthesis of “green polymers”. Several series of copolymers using bio-based monomers, including succinic-, adipic and furanoic acid derivatives were successfully synthesized, using both melt and enzyme-catalyzed polycondensation schemes. Extensive characterization revealed that it was possible to obtain copolymers with tunable properties depending on the choice of comonomers and the segmental composition. Additionally, polymeric blends were prepared by extrusion processing of commercially available and synthesized biodegradable polymers. The use of bioactive additives to the studied bio-based polymers resulted in enhanced antibacterial properties. On-going work has confirmed the processability of the obtained copolymers, in order to determine an optimal strategy to ultimately go from material to product. Finally, process parameters and obtained data were collected for the assessment of the environmental and socio-economic impact of the new polymeric systems, such as Life-Cycle Assessment.
The bio-based copolyesters series that have been synthesized thus far go beyond the current state-of-the-art in the field of thermoplastic elastomers. First, the combinations of VO-derived monomers (key technology of CRODA consortium partner), with various bio-based di-acid, diol, and diester monomers are novel, not described thus far in the literature. Second, the obtained copolymers have unique, but tunable properties. Further, the use of enzymatic synthesis for these copolymers also represents a significant advancement. Finally, by also conducting traditional melt polycondensation has offered unique opportunities to assess the role of synthesis strategy on the structure and properties of the polymer.
It can be anticipated that from the wide range of copolymers it will be possible to select materials suitable for all of the aspects of medical device packaging, such as rigid shells and paper coatings, with appropriate mechanical and barrier properties. Likewise, the range of material properties will make them suitable for applications in disposables, such as catheters. Degradation and advanced characterization studies are on-going, but will demonstrate that the developed materials are bio-degradable.
Overall, the results thus far are in-line with the primary goals of the project. The developed “green” polymers will open the door for the next generation of medical packaging and disposables and help improve hospital sustainability by facilitating a move towards a circular economy. In this way, the GREEN-MAP project will make a major societal impact in terms of protecting the environment and mitigating climate change. Further, the thus-far developed materials also hold promise for other biomedical applications where sustainable, bio-degradable materials are needed, such as drug delivery systems, tissue engineering scaffolds, etc. These cutting-edge fields require advanced, tunable materials that are non-toxic and can safely degrade in the body. As a result, the GREEN-MAP project has the potential to make significant impact beyond the fields of medical device packaging and disposables.
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