Production of biodegradable plastics from renewable materials

Plastic drinks bottles (c) iStockphoto

This catalyst-based production process enables the manufacture of sustainable and biodegradable plastics from renewable sources, eliminating the use of petrochemical-based raw materials.

The development of biodegradable materials as a complement to petroleum-derived plastics is an essential area of growth in materials chemistry, accessing renewable, degradable and non-toxic materials for biomedical, nanotechnology and commodity applications. There is currently an outstanding need for industry capable biodegradable, renewable polymerisation technologies.

This technology utilises aluminium catalysts to control the ring-opening polymerisation (ROP) of cyclic esters including rac-lactide, beta-butyrolactone and their derivatives as a method for making plastics. In contrast with current methods, the approach requires only a single catalyst system and is, therefore, amenable to one-pot processing, whilst the breadth of activity across a wide range of monomers allows access to fully degradable products which are made entirely from renewable feedstocks. Importantly, the system allows a high level of control and thermal properties can be tuned for particular applications by changing tacticity. The technology is well suited to the manufacture of both ABA and ABC block copolymers, gradient polymers, and in particular thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) applications.

Excellent control is achieved in both living and immortal ROP, molecular weights and polydispersities (PDI of 1.1) at up to 50 equivalents of chain transfer agent.

Potential Applications

  • Medical devices
  • Electronics
  • Consumer products
  • Automotive industries

Key Benefits

  • Improved method for production of polymers from renewable sources
  • Eliminates current waste/recovery concerns with discarded plastics
  • Reduced usage of expensive catalyst with low or even no metal residue purification
  • Renewable, degradable and processable thermoplastic elastomers that expand product scope

Key Publications

Cross ED, Allan LEN, Decken A & Shaver MP (2013). Aluminum salen and salan complexes in the ring-opening polymerization of cyclic esters: Controlled immortal and copolymerization of rac-beta-butyrolactone and rac-lactide. Journal of Polymer Science Part A - Polymer Chemistry, 51(5), 1137-1146.

Terms & Conditions

Access to the patent publication document (Reference WO2013128175A1), detailing invention, methods and results, will be provided following acceptance of the University's Open Technology standard terms and conditions.

University Services Available

Research and development support may be available for this technology on a commercial basis. Please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

This technology is available to access under the University's Open Technology initiative.

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To access this technology under the 'Open Technology' initiative from ERI, simply complete the Open Technology Request Form, accepting the terms and conditions applicable to this technology.

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