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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/C544838/1
Title: Sustainable Plastics: Catalytic Reactions with Renewable Resources
Principal Investigator: Williams, Professor CK
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Advanced Fellowship (Pre-FEC)
Starts: 01 October 2005 Ends: 31 October 2011 Value (£): 304,350
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Catalysis & Applied Catalysis Materials Characterisation
Materials Processing Materials Synthesis & Growth
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Apr 2005 Materials Fellowships 2005 Interview Panel Deferred
17 Mar 2005 Materials Fellowships 2005 Sift Panel Deferred
Summary on Grant Application Form
The 'plastic age' dominates to such on extent that it is hard to consider life without them; their manufacture is o growth industry with worldwide production exceeding 150 million tons per year. However, the most common feedstocks used to make them ore fossil fuels with around 7% of worldwide oil and gas being consumed in plastics production. Such resources, although technically renewable, ore estimated to be depleted in the next hundred years. The disposal of waste plastics also poses problems as the majority (>90%) go into landfill sites where they ore bulky and pervasive. There is on urgent need, and considerable economic, legislative and consumer pressure to develop sustainable ways to make useful plastic materials that con be easily recycled or biodegraded. This research addresses these important challenges in two complimentary research areas: (1) the use of carbon dioxide to make polycarbonates and (2) the use of lactic acid to make polyesters. The product polymers, polycarbonates and polyesters, con be recycled under mild conditions and ore also biodegradable. They ore currently used in specialist applications, including increasing demand for them in the high-value, high-growth medical and biological fields where their in vivo biodegradation suits their use as drug delivery vehicles, resorbable sutures, stents and matrices for tissue engineering. Their widespread application in o range of consumer products, including in packaging and fibres, as well as their importance in emerging medical markets, for example in controlling cell growth and Medical imaging, is dependent upon lowering their production costs and in tuning their properties.Carbon dioxide is on attractive feedstock since it is abundant, inexpensive, non toxic and non-flammable. Its activation and application as o carbon source has been under developed and we will address this by the use of bimetallic iron and zinc catalysts. These novel catalysts ore targeted for their low toxicity, ready availability, cost effectiveness and their structures ore inspired to mimic those of related metalloenzymes that activate renewable substrates. The use of carbon dioxide to make polycarbonates represents on alternative to the current production method that is hard to control and uses highly toxic reagents. Polylactide, o biodegradable plastic derived from renewable resources, is currrently produced in large quantities in both Japan and the USA but as yet not in the EU, despite being the best replacement for petrochemically derived plastics in many medical and consumer applications. It is mode by the polymerisation of lactic acid which is on annually renewable resource produced by the fermentation of plant or milk products. The polymerisation is currently accomplished using tin catalysts which ore poorly defined and toxic. We will carry out detailed investigations using well defined, low toxicity zinc and iron catalysts. The key step in both the use of both carbon dioxide and lactic acid to make plastics is the metal catalysis which enables the polymerisation to occur rapidly and efficiently. We will investigate alternative catalysts using non-toxic, inexpensive and abundant metals that will facilitate the polymers' efficient and controlled synthesis. We will use these novel catalysts to uncover the structural features that ore responsible for affecting the physical and chemical properties of the polymers and that drive the polymerisation rote. The development of more active and controlled catalysts will ultimately dictate the commercial viability of these novel syntheses and influence the applications for these biodegradable polymers. It is envisaged that by developing more efficient and economically competitive methods to produce these sustainable polymers that they will be used to power future advances in medicine as well as being widely applied in everyday consumer applications such as packaging, fibres and adhesives
Key Findings
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Project URL: http://www.ch.ic.ac.uk/williams/index.html
Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk