The Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP) will use a comprehensive strategy to discover innovative routes to plastics derived from renewable feedstock chemicals such as sugars, plant oils, and other naturally sourced starting materials. The CSP vision is to design, demonstrate and develop economically competitive polymers that combine product performance and negligible environmental impact, resulting in tangible societal benefit. The work of the Center is divided into three thrust areas. Thrust I focuses on the development of new methods to convert plant-based resources into viable starting materials for polymer synthesis based on traditional chemical methods and by harnessing the biochemical action of microorganisms. These and other starting materials are converted into polymers in Thrust II using new environmentally friendly techniques that are more efficient and more effective than currently practiced technologies. Thrust III focuses on translating these advances into competitive materials using sophisticated polymer architectures that lead to improved and sustainable plastics, elastomers, and thermosets. The CSP aims to impact society by transforming the US polymer industry to a more sustainable enterprise while enhancing the education and career development of students and young scientists involved with the Center. Additional broad impact will be realized through the engagement of Center personnel with public policy experts, interactive exhibits at the Minnesota State Fair that teach concepts of sustainable chemistry to the general public, development of curricular materials related to sustainable polymers and green chemistry for students of all ages, research opportunities for underrepresented groups in the sciences, and a comprehensive Industrial Affiliates Program that integrates commercial relevance and facilitates innovation.
Thrust I, Next Generation Feedstocks, is focused on conversion of inexpensive bio-based molecules such as saccharides, triglycerides and terpenes to monomers that can be used to generate both established and new polymers. The monomers are produced using both chemical processes, such as catalytic reductions and selective functionalizations, and metabolic processes involving biocatalysis by organisms. For example, new routes to commodity and next-generation monomers using catalytic deoxygenation reactions are being developed. High throughput screening efforts for these methods are being utilized in conjunction with computational modeling approaches to help guide the choice of catalyst species. Microbial hosts are being reengineered to help produce several different families of functionalized hydrocarbon monomers suitable for subsequent polymerization. This strategy leads to flexible pathways by which chain length and functionality in the resulting monomer can be altered. In Thrust II, Controlled Polymerization Processes, Center investigators are searching for methods to convert biobased monomers into polymers with precisely controlled molecular structures. Here center researchers are implementing precision catalytic transformations that allow for highly selective and efficient polymerization processes. In addition, new routes to recyclable crosslinked thermosets and the development of new sugar-based polyesters, carbonates, and acrylates are being pursued. And the final Thrust III area, Hybrid Polymer Structures, addresses how sophisticated and revolutionary polymer architectures such as multiblock polymers can be exploited to uncover new and innovative properties based on sustainable polymer building blocks. This work includes computational strategies that aid in guiding the synthetic efforts. Integration of these three scientific focus areas, and collaboration with industrial partners, ensures that the ultimate goal of the Center, economically competitive and high performance sustainable products, becomes reality.