In order to solve the challenges posed by traditional plastics, the Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP) brings together scientists with diverse areas of expertise from the University of Minnesota, Cornell University, Northwestern University, and the University of California, Berkeley. These collaborations can bring about unique approaches to really difficult problems. Read more about the innovations made through synergy in the CSP here:

Next Generation Feedstocks

Harvested Fields with Straw Bales in early Morning LightCSP researchers work to discover new, efficient, non-toxic, and catalytically mediated chemical transformations of biomass and other natural product-based feedstocks into both established and new molecules that can be converted into both established and new polymers.

Our research portfolio in this thrust encompasses, often in combination, organic, inorganic, and biosynthetic chemistry. Focus is on (i) scalable catalytic conversions of relevant and available small molecules and (ii) “rewiring” industrially tractable microbial hosts to generate a diverse array of polymer precursors by processes amenable to industrial bioreactor scale-up.

Thrust leader: Professor William B. Tolman

Controlled Polymerization Processes

CSP researchers work to discover new methods to convert biobased monomers into sustainable polymers with precisely controlled molecular structures.

Many new sustainable monomers feature increased heteroatom density and polarity relative to those derived from petroleum. For such monomers, existing polymerization methods lack the needed stereo- and regioselectivity and end-group fidelity necessary to efficiently access sophisticated polymer architectures. Researchers in the CSP will address this major challenge by both broadening the scope of existing polymerization strategies and developing entirely new methods. Progress toward these objectives requires a multifaceted approach in which collaborative teams will identify new polymerization catalysts, perform detailed mechanistic studies of their catalytic cycles, and apply these findings pragmatically to target new polymer architectures. High-throughput experimentation (HTE) and theoretical studies will accelerate discovery and provide detailed mechanistic understanding of the polymerization process.

Thrust leader: Professor Geoffrey W. Coates

Hybrid Polymer Structures

CSP researchers work to establish crucial relationships between chemical structure, morphology and performance for polymer architectures that incorporate multiple components and exhibit advanced properties important for future products.

Innovative sustainable polymer development is driven primarily by performance and cost considerations. Performance is calibrated against materials derived from any source and this metric is governed by the convolution of intrinsic properties (e.g., glass transition (Tg) and melting (Tm) temperatures, entanglement molar mass, and surface tension) and the detailed spatial arrangement of each polymer chain, often referred to as morphology. The most competitive commercial plastics marketed today combine these elements in single component compounds, such as linear poly(ethylene) (PE) and isotactic poly(propylene) (iPP). These polymers have been refined over decades of industrial experience and cannot readily be duplicated with individual sustainable homopolymers. We anticipate that many performance improvements will be accessed by joining multiple polymeric components derived from renewably sourced monomers and associated polymerization methods generated by the first two thrusts, respectively.

Thrust leader: Professor Frank S. Bates