In this project funded by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular, and Nanochemistry Program in the Division of Chemistry, Professors Karen L. Wooley and Donald J. Darensbourg of the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University are developing new synthetic routes that harness natural products and consume carbon dioxide for the sustainable production of high value polymers. These polymers are capable of undergoing degradation to regenerate the same natural building blocks once they have completed their useful lifetime. The team quantifies the polymer degradation products and defines the potential uses of the polymers. The broader impacts of this research include the transformation of natural resources into useful polymer materials that can be readily and sustainably degraded, thereby reducing the use of petrochemical feedstocks and reducing the environmental persistence of plastics in landfills and water systems. The project also contributes to the training of a diverse group of students in a highly interdisciplinary research environment and is complemented by outreach activities and efforts at recruiting the next generation STEM workforce.
This research is focused on developing synthetic chemistry approaches to the production of a series of polycarbonates, polyphosphoesters, polyamides and polyurethanes that originate from renewable resources. These materials exhibit novel chemical, physical and mechanical properties, and undergo hydrolytic breakdown to biologically-beneficial or benign by-products. Linkages between carbohydrate repeat units are designed to include carbonates to allow for breakdown to carbohydrates, carbon dioxide and other byproducts upon hydrolysis. To be carbon dioxide neutral, carbon dioxide is used as a feedstock to access the polycarbonates. Carbohydrates are also connected via phosphoesters, analogous to polyphosphoesters backbones in DNA. Polyphenolic compounds are investigated as alternatives to bisphenol A in the construction of engineering plastics or polyurethanes. Additionally, and of importance for polyurethane industry, several natural diamines and diols are studied for conversion into polyurethanes via processes that avoid phosgene and handing of isocyanates. Polymerizations associated with this work involve step-growth condensation or chain-growth ring opening polymerization. This work includes research and educational components that have a high potential to impact advanced manufacturing.
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.