Plastics derived from petroleum-based polymers offer affordable packaging, adhesives, building materials, computer components, and sporting and safety equipment. The durability and stability of these materials, however, has resulted in an undesirable accumulation of discarded plastics in our environment. The NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP) addresses this challenge by designing functional and environmentally sustainable plastics. Key aspects of sustainability include making plastics from renewable resources, using green and sustainable reaction chemistries, and making specialty plastics that can be composted or recycled after their use. CSP seeks detailed understanding of the chemical transformations happening in all of these processes, building a body of knowledge that can be generalized to other systems. The multi-institutional and collaborative team involves researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Cornell University, Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of California Berkeley, University of Chicago and University of South Dakota. CSP promotes innovation through technology transfer and entrepreneurship as demonstrated by their patent portfolio and spin-off companies. CSP has extensive programs in education, outreach, and broadening participation of underrepresented groups in the sciences. Their efforts include developing new college curricula and laboratory experiments with sustainable polymer examples. CSP-supported graduate students and postdoctoral researchers access professional development opportunities in communication skills, creating collaborative and equitable work environments, project management, and engaging with industry researchers. A diverse group of undergraduates is supported through summer research opportunities. A national partnership is bringing science skills and discussions of sustainable plastics to 4-H groups across the country.

The NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP) incorporates experts in all stages of polymer chemistry that range from developing polymers from renewable resources, creating new chemistries for synthesis, and improving the recycling or degradation pathways for plastics after use. CSP's research efforts are organized into three areas that have substantive scientific overlap: 1) to discover new, efficient, and often catalytic chemical transformations of biomass and other natural product-based feedstocks into both new and established polymer ingredients; 2) to discover new sustainable polymers with precisely controlled molecular structures and establish relationships between structure, morphology, and performance properties; and 3) to discover sustainable polymers with triggered degradation, chemical recycling, and compatibilization capabilities to reduce or eliminate plastic waste. Center members emphasize research translation and the protection of intellectual property in their innovation efforts. The center trains and develops a diverse cohort of chemists that works collaboratively and leverages one another's expertise. CSP partners with youth development organizations to encourage interest in the physical sciences and engages the public in the challenges and the opportunities presented by sustainable polymers. CSP works to advance data sharing and reuse by making original, primary data files available with all publications.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Chemistry (CHE)
Cooperative Agreement (Coop)
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Katharine Covert
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
United States
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