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Circular High-performance Aza-Michael Polymers as Innovative materials Originating from Nature

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CHAMPION (Circular High-performance Aza-Michael Polymers as Innovative materials Originating from Nature)

Reporting period: 2020-06-01 to 2021-11-30

Polymers are used in many areas of modern life, including kitchen surface and car textile coatings, laundry detergent and glues that fix wind turbine parts together. However, many of these polymers are made from non-renewable (fossil-derived) components and have a range of environmental issues, both during production and once they reach the end of their useful life.

CHAMPION aims to replace these conventional polymers with new, high performing and safer bio-based ones, with improved end-of-life options via recycling or biodegradation. Society cannot rely on non-renewable polymers in the long term, and the avoidance of harmful production processes is necessary for the many workers in these industries. As shown in the drive to reduce single-use plastics, it is essential to consider what will happen to the polymers once they are no longer in use and design them so that effective recycling and/or biodegradability is possible.

Specifically, the objectives of the project are to:

• Produce more than 50 novel bio-derivable materials.

• Increase the environmental and economic performance of the chosen polymers.

• Establish an innovative, cost-effective testing strategy that can rapidly evaluate toxicological safety issues of candidate products.

• Produce and test at least four bio-based polymer candidates, with at least one each tested as homecare formulation additives, structural adhesives, coatings and automotive interior surfaces.

• Increase overall resource efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the targeted applications by demonstrating sound end-of-life options for each lead candidate.

• Evaluate, in industrial-scale production processes, two to three of the most advanced bio-based polyester candidates in potential environmental, social and economic terms.

• Communicate with key audiences and stakeholders and gather feedback from policymakers and market actors along the entire value chain in order to undertake the market analysis.
During the first 18 months of CHAMPION, the work was focussed on the following key tasks:

• Implementing project management processes including the creation of an external advisory board (EAB). First meeting with the EAB to present the project plans and initial results, answer questions and obtain feedback.

• Computational modelling of over 100 potential polymers, current materials and starting materials.

• Synthesis of novel materials for use in CHAMPION polymer preparation.

• Proof of the overall concept of the project – preparation of aza-Michael polymers - using commercially available starting materials.

• Validation of high-throughput toxicity screening using existing compounds and first novel CHAMPION materials. Evaluating results to make screening process as efficient as possible.

• Scale-up of material synthesis in order to prepare new polymers and allow for further testing in the project.

• Initial testing of performance of CHAMPION polymers in industry settings to feedback into plans for the next period.

• Biodegradation testing of currently used materials to set the baseline against which the CHAMPION materials can be judged.

• Performing a rough economic estimation for a wide range of candidates, to assist with avoiding those with prohibitively high costs. Starting the preliminary process designs and cost evaluations.

• Setting up the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) framework; gathering life cycle inventory data for relevant biomass derived building blocks, conducting a preliminary cradle-to-gate LCA for a potential bio-based benchmark.

• Defining a strategy for a broader sustainability/circularity evaluation of CHAMPION products.

• Developing the brand identity of the project, including logo, templates and launching a dedicated website and social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). Preparation of plans for communicating with stakeholders and management of project data.

• Publishing two CHAMPION newsletters showcasing project progress and partner news.
Replacements to the currently used polymers are required due to their reliance on fossil-based starting materials, the poor safety of some of the production processes and the lack of suitable end-of-life options. To support transition to a circular economy, CHAMPION aims to provide replacement polymers that not only address the shortcomings of the existing materials but also deliver at least the same, if not improved, performance in the 4 target applications. Extension of the project results to additional application areas will increase the impact of the project. Towards this aim, an external advisory board has been established, which extends the potential production chains in the project and also provides an insight into the ambitions in other sectors.

If the project successfully achieves its goals, substitution of current materials, with the safer, renewable CHAMPION polymers would deliver both health and environmental benefits. However, technologies at the early stages of development have major challenges to meet especially in terms of cost of production, which the project tries to anticipate and take into account in the design and selection of monomers and polymers. Working on establishing an environmentally and socially sustainable production chain is also a key factor that will be central to the project achieving its ambitions.
CHAMPION project concept