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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CHAMPION (Circular High-performance Aza-Michael Polymers as Innovative materials Originating from Nature)

Reporting period: 2021-12-01 to 2023-03-31

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 demonstrated 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 materials that can be prepared from a biological origin (bio-derivable).

• 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.
Since the beginning of the project, the work completed includes:

• Implementation and use of the management processes to support delivery of the project. In particular, the successful use of the method to integrate the results for all the work areas in order to find the best candidates for advanced testing.

• Establishing the External Advisory Board and holding two annual meetings to present results and obtain feedback.

• Computational modelling of over 100 potential polymers, some of the materials currently used in the target applications and the starting materials for the polymer synthesis.

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

• Synthesis of novel materials for use in CHAMPION polymer preparation, at both lab and larger scale.

• Making polymers suitable for use in the four target application areas using the novel and commercially available bio-derivable materials.

• Validation and use of high-throughput toxicity screening methods to test novel materials including polymer candidates. Started migration studies and analysis of any Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) for the relevant applications.

• Screening of the polymer properties for their suitability for use in the target applications. Initial testing of the performance of the polymers in industry settings to direct further synthesis and determine the best candidates to proceed to advanced testing in the final period of the project.

• Biodegradation testing of the currently used materials to set the baseline against which the CHAMPION materials can be judged. Use of the results from biodegradation testing of CHAMPION candidates to direct further synthesis. Starting to investigate other end-of-life options for those polymers where recycling or other options are preferred.

• 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.

• Delivery of the preliminary process designs, cost evaluations and life-cycle assessments for a number of starting materials. Use of these to identify where alternative synthetic routes are needed for reasons including industrial feasibility, too high cost or environmental impact.

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

• Development of the brand identity of the project, which included choosing the logo, designing templates, launch of the dedicated website and social media accounts (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). Making regular updates of the website and social media, including the launch of a YouTube channel.

• Preparation of plans for communicating with stakeholders and management of project data. Delivering the plans in order to communicate and disseminate project goals and results to stakeholders through a combination of webinars, website updates, project newsletters, presentations and publications. Creation of a learning section on the website to explain the methodologies used in CHAMPION, aimed at different audiences.

• Evaluation of the current relevant EU policy relating to the circular economy and identifying where CHAMPION can support these aims.

• Conducting a market study to identify needs and preferences of market actors. The analysis conducted includes literature study, expert interviews and focus group meetings.
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 four 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, the 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 production costs. The project tries to anticipate these challenges and take them 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