The majority of plastics we use in our day-to-day lives are sourced from petroleum, which is both non-renewable and non-sustainable. As a contributing group in the Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP), we strive to develop monomers and polymers from sustainable resources. Research projects in this area are highly collaborative with other research groups in the Center.

Sustainable polymer projects in our group are natural extensions of our group’s other projects. Often in our group, drug delivery vehicles employ carbohydrates in their polymer structures. Carbohydrates represent a key feedstock for green materials development, as they are the most widely available renewable resource. The sustainable polymers we develop are designed to exhibit low toxicity while being biodegradable; key characteristics of biomaterials and desired properties for sustainable plastics. Consequently, the understanding of sustainable polymers is central towards the development of biomaterials that will enable our group to enter other therapeutic areas.

We are dedicated towards understanding the synthesis, development, and properties of sustainable polymers.

Featured Projects – Sustainable Polymers

Renewable chemical feedstocks are becoming increasingly cost competitive with petroleum based analogs as a result of advances in synthetic methods and production processes. For example, recent improvements in the conversion of the glucose derivative sorbitol to isosorbide have made the latter a viable building block for biobased polymers on the commercial scale. Often compared to bisphenol A due to its rigid bicyclic structure and diol functionality, isosorbide has been incorporated into a wide variety of step growth polymers, including polyesters, polycarbonates, polyethers, and polyurethanes. In this work, we sought to enable the development of advanced materials such as block copolymers using isosorbide by efficiently synthesizing a new monovinyl isosorbide derivative. To this end, we report the (i) synthesis and characterization of acetylated methacrylic isosorbide (AMI); (ii) use of scandium(III) triflate (Sc(OTf)3) as an active and endo-selective esterification catalyst for the functionalization of isosorbide; (iii) polymerization of AMI via conventional free radical polymerization to afford linear high Tg polymers (PAMI); (iv) synthesis and use of a new, efficient hydroxy functional chain transfer agent (HO-CPAD) for the RAFT polymerization of AMI to give PAMI-CTA; (v) synthesis of block copolymer PAMI-b-PnBA by chain extension of PAMI-CTA with n-butyl acrylate. [Read more]
The development of sustainable polymers that are derived from renewable sources and have the ability to degrade within a reasonable time frame under appropriate conditions continues to be a formidable challenge. Carbohydrates represent important building blocks in the development of new sustainable materials and are of great interest considering their large supply, rich stereochemistry, and high heteroatom content. A well-studied example is isosorbide, which has been used in a multitude of polymer applications. Of particular interest was a recent report of the acyclic diene metathesis (ADMET) polymerization of isosorbide undecenoate, derived from coupling isosorbide with a castor oil derivative, to yield low molecular weight, sustainably derived polymers. While isomerizations that take place during ADMET were emphasized in this report, the properties of the synthesized polymers were not explored. [Read more]