Sustainable Production of Bio-Based Polymers
Polymers and polymer composites are ubiquitously used throughout our economy. The vast majority of such materials are sourced from fossil-based resources. Sourcing of polymers from renewable feedstocks, namely waste biomass, has the potential to valorize waste materials, divert non-renewable resources from utilization, and create polymers that are more favorable for recycling and/or biodegradation.
Industrial analyses and predictions show that by 2030 both biodegradable and non-biodegradable bio-based plastics will be widely used and that the renewable plastics market will account for over $6 billion (USD). This growing trend is motivated by customers and regulatory agencies and their demands for plastics that are environmentally benign, drastically less toxic to human health, and, ultimately, are more sustainable than their petroleum-derived counterparts. However, compared to the petrochemical industry, biomass feedstock processing, especially large-scale environmentally benign refining and manufacturing techniques as well as large-scale degradation/recycling strategies, are in their infantcies.
The major production steps for bio-based polymers include feedstock procurement, monomer and reagent purification, polymer synthesis, processing, and testing, including end-of-life assessments. The complexity of biomass feedstocks has the benefit of potentially offering inherent chemical functionality that can and should be exploited; however, this same complexity requires additional considerations during feedstock processing as well as during polymer synthesis, property testing, and end-of-life analyses. Furthermore, the necessity for biomass processing within the context of a biorefinery can provide benefits regarding economics and waste minimization. The negative impacts of a process can be mitigated by attempting to align with green design principles, and the evaluation of the economic and environmental impact of a new material at early stages of development is essential to the useful and applicable design of a competitive new product.
Addressing these challenges requires expertise from diverse backgrounds and sectors. This symposium seeks to highlight the contributions that the green chemistry and engineering community, including those in government, academia, and in the private sector, has made towards fundamentally understanding, designing, developing, and commercializing bio-based polymers via sustainable production processes and degradation/recycling strategies thereof. Given the conference theme of closing the loop, the symposium will focus on progress made toward the design, synthesis, usage, and end-of-life assessments of bio-based polymers with an emphasis on contributions that bridge, holistically assess, and/or iterate through this loop from cradle to grave. Moreover, this symposium will identify major hurdles and obstacles that must be overcome to close the loop and promote a sustainable future.
Prof. Joe Stanzione, Rowan University
Prof. Melissa Gordon, Lafayette College
Prof. Lindsay Soh, Lafayette College