In this project funded by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry Program of the Chemistry Division, Robert Mathers of the Pennsylvania State University at New Kensington will study pathways to synthesize polymers from renewable bio-based molecules that also display tunable physical properties and multiple modes of degradation. First, combinations of atom efficient reactions will be linked together to synthesize monomers from bio-based reagents. Then, the monomers will be polymerized using free-radical chemistry and the resulting polymers will be characterized. The broader impacts of the project involve developing a teaching module targeted towards middle and high school students on the topics of sustainability, the use of renewable resources, physical properties of materials, and chemical reactions. This module allows students to experience the concept of a sustainable material through the preparation of a degradable and non-toxic polymer based on glycerol and citric acid.
Plastics are long chain organic molecules and are found in many facets of everyday life, including food packaging, structural materials for automotive and aerospace transportation, and lightweight electronic devices. At present, plastics are derived predominantly from petroleum based resources. This research focuses on developing sustainable synthetic routes into plastics based upon bio-derived feedstocks.