Q: What was the reason for founding your organization – what was the open niche you saw that could be addressed with a new product or service? What was the problem, or gap, or opportunity?
The Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP) was founded to address the gap in fundamental research needed to establish a new paradigm for polymeric materials that addresses the challenge of sustainability. CSP researchers pursue basic polymer science research aimed at developing new, practical chemistries, polymers, processes, and technologies that utilize the principles of green chemistry to help protect the environment and ensure that future generations will be able to meet their societal needs with respect to plastics.
Q: Tell us about your organization. What do you do?
The University of Minnesota’s NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers is a research center funded by the National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry, whose mission is to transform how plastics are made, unmade, and remade through innovative research, engaging education, and diverse partnerships that together foster environmental stewardship. Research efforts are focused on (i) efficient and sustainable conversion of biomass to polymer ingredients, (ii) high-performance sustainable plastics and elastomers and (iii) sustainable polymer degradation, chemical recycling and compatibilization.
CSP researchers have developed a variety of technologies available for licensing and commercial development. These technologies are listed at https://csp.umn.edu/innovation/.
Q: What stage of development are you? Choose one:
Proof of concept stage – in the lab or in the product/service formation process
Q: What do your technologies, products or services do and accomplish – how does it (they) work, who is it (they) aimed for?
The CSP relies on input and guidance from an active Industrial Advisory Board. Their advice and critical assessment of the center’s research portfolio has helped shape the center’s direction, our approach to sustainability, and the value of specific research areas to the polymer industry. The IAB is currently comprised of representatives from:
– H.B. Fuller
– Kimberly-Clark Corporation
– NatureWorks LLC
The list of these companies is also found at https://csp.umn.edu/advisory-boards/#IAB
In addition to producing high-impact, transformative research in the chemical sciences, the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers is training a new generation of chemists and chemical engineers. Our graduates and alumni are immersed in collaborative research projects, which simultaneously allows them to gain a deep understanding of their own discipline while drawing on the broader strengths and abilities of their team members.
Q: Competitively, what gives your technology, product or service set an edge in cost or performance, sustainability, or any other aspect, that makes it stand out from the crowd, In short, what makes it transformative?
CSP researchers work to transform the field of polymer chemistry by developing polymers and associated processes that meet or exceed the performance of existing petroleum-derived materials, that are cost competitive, and that mitigate the environmental hazards of traditional polymers. These ambitious goals require fundamental research into understanding precisely how to control, for example, polymerization and depolymerization, as well as exploration of the opportunities provided by nature to develop new polymer ingredients and new, high-performing materials. The combination of these research efforts is what will propel the sustainable polymer industry forward in the decades to come.
Companies can sponsor research at the University of Minnesota via Minnesota Innovation Partnership program (MN-IP). See https://research.umn.edu/units/techcomm/sponsoring-research-mn-ip. MN-IP attracts sponsors of all sizes – from start-up companies to large, multi-national corporations.
Q: What are the 3 top milestones you have accomplished in the past 3 years?
- Hybrid chemistry for renewable isoprene for automobile tires: CSP researchers identified a path to solve two distinct chemical challenges in sequence by (a) introducing carbon branching via fermentation, and (b) selective deoxygenation through reduction chemistry. The resulting 3-methyl-THF yields isoprene at 70% yield following a one-step ring-opening dehydraytion reaction.
- Polyethylene/iPolypropylene (PE/iPP) multiblock copolymer polyoelfin adhesives and compatibilizers: CSP researchers have developed a multiblock polymer additive that can combine immiscible PE and iPP blends into remarkably tough plastic composites.
- Elastomers from lactones: CSP researchers developed new, high-performance polyesters from renewable feedstocks with ester bonds in the polymer backbone to enable degradation on more reasonable timescales.
Q: What are the 3 top milestones you will accomplish in the next 3 years?
In the coming years the center will pursue critical research targets in:
- Efficient and sustainable conversion of biomass to polymer ingredients, such as olefins from fatty acids and fatty acid esters, bioderived acrylic acid, and the synthesis of renewable aromatic acid monomers and new lactones and lactams;
- High-performance sustainable plastics and elastomers through new catalyst design, discovery, and development, optimized molecular structures, and next-generation ring-opening polymerizations; and
- Sustainable polymer degradation, chemical recycling and compatibilization, such as improved polyolefin recycling and degradation and new routes to processable and degradable carbohydrate-based materials.
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