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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/Y022009/1
Title: Lignin-based coatings: A novel approach to turn challenges into opportunities for anti-corrosion and anti-wear applications
Principal Investigator: Zhang, Dr F
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Genesis Lulea University of Technology OLEON - A Natural Chemistry
Department: Sch of Engineering and Informatics
Organisation: University of Sussex
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 February 2024 Ends: 31 January 2027 Value (£): 433,017
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Materials Characterisation Materials Synthesis & Growth
Surfaces & Interfaces
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
19 Sep 2023 EPSRC Physical Sciences Prioritisation Panel - September 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Sustainable development is a crucial concept that recognizes our planet's limited resources, and humans' place in the ecological system. To achieve a viable and lasting environment, it is essential to produce materials with the least energy consumption and from renewable resources. The materials should also have good durability, where wear due to corrosion and abrasion is often the limiting factor. In this project, we aim to produce durable coatings from renewable materials that not only are sustainable themselves but also protect the underlying material from corrosion and wear.

Corrosion is a major problem that leads to enormous economic costs and in the worst case, even to personal injury and fatalities when structures collapse. The traditional corrosion protection methods used globally are often effective, but they have disadvantages. Fossil-based coatings involve CO2 emissions, and the use of harmful corrosion protection chemicals causes serious damage to the environment and human health. Due to this, legislation has become stricter, and many of the most harmful and effective corrosion protection chemicals are now banned. Unfortunately, alternatives with comparable performance are still missing. The ban on using harmful chemicals is good, but the fact that materials wear out more quickly is detrimental to sustainable development. It is an urgent need to find renewable alternatives that work at least as well as the banned materials. This project will take us a few steps closer to that goal.

In this project, we will utilise renewable biomass, and thereby also contribute to the effort to use biomass for value-added products, which in itself is a growing research area. Lignin, the key component in our coating, is one of the most abundant resources in plants that there is a surplus of from the forestry and agricultural industries. Today, lignin is mostly used as an energy supplement through burning. The reason for lignin not being widely utilised is due to its large and complex molecular structure that is highly resistant to depolymerisation. Depolymerisation is often a necessity to create valuable materials, but is not needed for the coatings we intend to produce, because the large and cross-linked molecular chains of lignin will be beneficial for barrier-type coatings. The development and production of corrosion-protective coatings are mainly about creating a surface barrier film. However, lignin is a typically poor film polymer, which is the challenge of this project.

The PI has found a smart solution to the challenge inspired by the blue mussel. Mussels are capable of firmly attaching themselves to virtually every material such as wood, steel, wax, and even Teflon. The secret lies in the mussel's special protein-based adhesive. By mixing lignin and mussel protein, we can create protective coatings on metallic surfaces with excellent corrosion protection properties and abrasion protective properties. It has been found that mussel protein films also have a self-healing ability, which means that minor damage to the coating can heal on its own. There are other coatings on the market that are self-healing in the event of wear, but often lack the corrosion protection function. The available corrosion protective coatings, on the other hand, are usually not self-healing. The proposed coating combines self-healing, corrosion protection and abrasion protection properties.

We will develop an environmentally friendly coating to reduce corrosion and wear, which would increase the underlying material's lifespan. The coating can also be used in combination with other coatings to achieve additional functions and even better durability. The project has the potential to create a paradigm shift in the coating industry with increased use of biomass to replace fossil-based, health-hazardous, and environmentally harmful products.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.sussex.ac.uk