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Functional Polyesters from Renewable Monomers Through a New Reaction Mechanism

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: EP/P026095/2
Funded under: EPSRC Funder Contribution: 214,899 GBP
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Functional Polyesters from Renewable Monomers Through a New Reaction Mechanism

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The polymer industry is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives, producing commodity plastics, modern electronics, biomedical materials, and much more. However, the vast majority of these polymers are derived from petroleum resources, creating both economic uncertainty and environmental risk. Biodegradable polyesters like poly(lactic acid) have provided one of the most promising solutions to this challenge, building plastics from renewable resources through a catalysed polymerisation reaction. Despite the hype and expectation, these renewable polymers account for less than 5% of all commercial polymers. Why this limitation? Replacing all commodity plastics is difficult because of the limited range of properties accessible with PLA and its copolymers. One strategy to overcome this final roadblock is to develop polyesters with different functional groups - however current synthetic methods provide low yields of monomer feedstocks or derive from toxic reagents. This proposal builds on an important recent discovery of a new synthetic strategy to target these structurally divergent plastics. New monomers, built entirely from renewable resources, can be ring-opened to afford plastics with a broad range of functional groups. The products have the potential to transform traditional polymer markets, potentially serving as biodegradable mimics of polystyrene, as new biodegradable feedstocks for health applications, and as commodity plastics with a significantly broader range of thermal properties. Importantly, this project will also address the first stages of monomer and polymer scale up, moving the discovery from laboratory towards an industrial scale to facilitate commercialisation and materials testing of the new plastics.

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