This SBIR Phase II project will scale up the atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) synthetic method to a 200 L scale from a 1 L scale that was developed in the Phase I work. This ATRP synthetic process is a highly controlled method for synthesizing polymers and copolymers specifically with highly tailored architectures including molecular structure and molecular weight distribution which can affect the properties of the material significantly.
The broader impact/commercial potential of the project will be to create a commercially viable option for producing specialty polymers that might not otherwise be feasible to produce on a large scale. This SBIR Phase II project will allow straightforward scale-up of ATRP process and bring it much closer to the broad market of commercial products. More importantly, the successful validation of the new ?feeding? method for ATRP will allow, in the near future, a significant decrease in the consumption of energy and generation of chemical waste for all companies, which will utilize the ATRP technology for the synthesis of new well-defined and better performing materials.
Award Title: Adapting atom transfer radical polymerization to industrial scale production, SBIR Phase II&IIB_1026575 This Small Business Innovation Research Phase II&IIB project developed a new process, called Ultimate ATRP which solves the critical problems in the way of adapting ATRP technology to industrial scale production. Even though classic ATRP techniques have been shown to produce highly engineered polymers with next generation properties, this technology has proven too costly and difficult to scale. In the classic ATRP techniques the rate of polymerization is predominately determined inside the reactor, once the reaction is started there is very little one can do to adjust or control the rate of reaction without negatively impacting quality of the polymer produced. More importantly, these polymerization reactions are exothermic, and therefore, the lack of external reaction rate control presents significant challenges in scaling. The ultimate ATRP technique takes reaction rate control out of the reactor by feeding a catalyst activator which determines the number of active chains and the amount of active catalyst in the reaction medium during the polymerization. By adjusting the feed rate, the operator has control over the polymerization kinetics, and thus the reaction energetics and exothermic effects. The control over the polymerization kinetics is so good that the growth of chains can be stopped promptly to attenuate any strong exothermic effect and then restarted with no loss of livingness. ATRP technology is extraordinarily powerful in that polymers can be custom designed with pre-determined, highly specific structures with tailored functionalities which rival the complex architectures seen in natural polymers. Such precise control over both composition and architecture at the molecular level is beyond the capability of the conventional free radical polymerization, which is the dominant incumbent technology in polymer industry. The difficulties to scale ATRP technique limited the application of this powerful tool in industry for a long time. Until now, the ultimate ATRP process cleared all the obstacles and brought this technology into full play. It opens a new avenue for the production of specialty polymers with novel functions. Polymers of linear, block, and star architectures made of acrylates, methacrylates and styrenes have been validated via this new approach. We have successfully carried out reactions in conventional 750-gal glass-lined reactors and have plans to further scale up the process over the next three years, with the goal of producing 10 million lb/yr in a U.S.-based, manufacturing facility. There is no doubt that numerous new to the world polymers described in scientific papers can be scaled and used to make new products which make our everyday lives better.