The majority of plastics we use in our day-to-day lives are sourced from petroleum, which have caused severe environmental damage and are not sustainable. As a member group in the Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP), we strive to develop monomers and polymers from natural products and biomass such as sugars, seed oils, terpenes, lignan, and polysaccharides via green chemistry methods.

Research projects in this area involve a number of different collaborative facets such as novel synthetic method development, catalyst optimization, controlled polymerizations, engineering physical properties, and application testing. For example, new synthetic methods to build sustainable feedstocks are being developed to yield novel high-performance polymers from isosorbide (a derivative of glucose). Also, UV-curable natural product monomers derived from lignan are being created for sustainable 3D printing applications. Moreover, new adhesives, elastomers, and crosslinked polymer systems from renewable sources are being advanced with tunable and controlled degradation pathways that are derived from biomass. The sustainable polymers we are developing are designed to exhibit low toxicity while offering a biodegradation pathway, which are key characteristics of biomaterials and desired properties for sustainable materials. All projects are highly collaborative with other research groups in the Center.

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Featured Projects: Sustainable Polymers

Derek TOC Screen Shot Isosorbide is a rigid and inexpensive sugar-derived building block that has shown promise in high-performance applications, such as packaging, electronic displays, and biomedical materials. However, there is a need for controlled polymerization methods for this monomer. The focus of this project is to provide mechanistic insights into the cationic and quasi-zwitterionic ring-opening polymerization (ROP) of an annulated isosorbide derivative (1,4:2,5:3,6-trianhydro-d-mannitol). Ring-opening selectivity of this tricyclic ether was achieved, and the polymerization was selectively directed toward different macromolecular architectures, allowing for formation of either linear or cyclic polymers. Notably, straightforward recycling of unreacted monomer can be accomplished via sublimation. This work provides the first platform for tailored polymer architectures from isosorbide via ROP.

Reference: D. J. Saxon, M. Nasiri, M. Mandal, S. Maduskar, P. J. Dauenhauer, C. J. Cramer, A. M. LaPointe, T. M. Reineke "Architectural control of isosorbide-based polyethers via ring-opening polymerization", J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 5107–5111.
Rui TOC Photocured polymers have recently gained tremendous interest for a wide range of applications, such as industrial prototyping/additive manufacturing, electronics, medical/dental devices, and tissue engineering. However, current development of photoinitiated thermosetting formulations is mostly centered on commercial monomers/oligomers that are petroleum-derived and environmentally unfriendly. This work aims to develop natural phenolic-based (meth)acrylates to expand the use of sustainable and mechanically robust 3D printable formulations.

Reference: R. Ding, Y. Du, R. Goncalves, L. Francis, T. M. Reineke "Sustainable Near UV-curable Acrylates Based on Natural Phenolics for Stereolithography 3D Printing", Polym. Chem. 2019, 10, 1067-1077.