Sustainable polyesters from corn as tomorrow’s advanced plastics

University of Minnesota/Marc Hillmyer

This project seeks to advance progression from fundamental discoveries to practical technologies in the area of biobased products derived from corn. Our target materials are polyesters, because these hold tremendous promise as next generation sustainable plastics. We have identified six collaborative research projects that integrate the collective expertise of the investigators. In short, we will:
(1) utilize branched bottlebrush and graft block copolymers containing polylactide (PLA) and a rubbery polyester as additives for commercial and corn-derived PLA for the purpose of enhancing the ability to melt blow clear and mechanically robust films for packaging applications;
(2) develop new hybrid nanoparticles formed by grafting of diblock copolymers from surface hydroxyl groups on cellulose nanocrystals that will enhance the properties of commercial PLA;
(3) advance the catalytic conversion of glucose to terephthalic acid to enable the production of renewable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from corn;
(4) discover new polyesters based on 3-hydroxypropionic acid and monomers made therefrom; this emerging new monomer from fermentation of corn will be utilized to make new compostable polyesters with high strength and high melting temperature;
(5) use a newly discovered hydroesterificative polymerization to design and synthesize new classes of polyester materials from bioderived feedstocks; this will lead to faster, more efficient and selective catalysts for the broadly useful hydroesterification; and
(6) design and synthesize new-to-the-world monomers from compounds abundant in corn; these will be polymerized to new materials with novel properties and functions.