Georgia Tech's Renewable Bioproducts Institute is building an integrated community of researchers from across GT around the topic of “circular materials from biomass”. The goal is to organize faculty for the NSF Generation 4 ERC Call and other large proposal teams (NSF NRT, for example).
To limit the amount of time on-line, we will hold this three hour virtual workshop in two-parts.
Part 1: Friday, May 22, 3-4:30 p.m.
Part 2: Friday, May 29, 3-4:30 p.m.
Register here: https://gatech.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bBgCxUnFtloooM5
Georgia Tech faculty and researchers are invited to share a Flash talk with your ideas and capabilities in one of the five thrust areas listed below, and to learn about those of your colleagues.
Thrust Areas: Circular Polymers and Materials from Biomass
1. Biomass Feedstock Monomers to Polymers
Most conventional synthetic polymers are non-biodegradable and remain in the environment for a long time, resulting in concern about contamination of aquatic and terrestrial systems by microplastics. As a result there is growing demand for renewable raw materials and material recycling in order to have more sustainable utilization of resources and reduce negative environmental impacts. Chemically synthesized polymers based on monomers derived from natural raw materials such as poly(lactic acid) (PLA), replacement solutions such as biobased polyethylene (PE) or biopolymers produced via microbial fermentation such as PHAs could be an important step toward the goal of sustainable plastic materials and a circular plastic economy. However, despite these important examples, the variety of engineering applications, and the recyclability, upcyclability, or compostability of such materials is still limited.
2. Natural Biopolymers as Plastics or Additives
Many naturally-occurring polymers offer functional properties similar to those found in plastics or plastic-additives, and are biodegradable. The prevalence of C-O and C-N bonds makes these materials amenable to chemical depolymerization that could enable circular upcycling. Prominent examples include lignocellulosic materials (including CNCs, CNFs, lignin), chitin and chitosan, starches, and proteins. Challenges to using these materials as plastics or plastic additives include energy intensive extraction methods, compatibilization, and introduction into the melt processing plastic production infrastructure. Additional challenges for end-of-life include assessment of carbon and energy footprint, biodegradation, compostability, and development of economical chemical upcycling strategies for plastic substitutes based on natural polymers.
3. Polymer/Biopolymer Upcycling, Recycling, Composting
Today, mechanical recycling of plastics is the dominant technology but rarely produces materials that are equivalent in function to those made through polymerization. A specific challenge, identified in recent DOE calls for proposals such as BOTTLE, is the 40-80% reduction in overall carbon footprint of a closed-loop life cycle compared to that of a linear one. In this workshop we want to connect Georgia Tech researchers to enable fundamental research into new, low carbon footprint, pathways for recovering useful chemicals from existing polymers and also the production of novel monomers through chemical and biochemical pathways from biobased feedstocks. For example, closing the loop for these novel materials could occur explicitly through coupling natural systems for polymer degradation, such as compositing and digestion, with making new monomers, or implicitly by using biobased monomers from photosynthesis.
4. Manufacturing and Functionality
Considering that materials including monomers, polymers, and fillers or reinforcements from renewable resources are different than their non-biodegradable counterparts one needs to understand how the manufacturing processes and processing conditions (e.g., temperature) need to be altered in order to enable conversion of these materials into high-value products. In addition, one needs to understand the processing-structure-property relationship for the properties of interest (e.g., mechanical, barrier or/and thermal) and create roadmaps that can allow for fabricating products with desired properties. There is need to understand what are the material characteristics that dominate their ability to be processed and determine what are the possible processing routes.
5. Creating Markets and Policy
The explosive growth of renewable power production would not have happened without policies to create market opportunities or mandated power portfolio composition. Similar success has not happened in plastics recycling despite decades of bottle bills and other policy approaches such as extended producer responsibility. We need to craft policies that help promote scientific and technological advances that can be effective in growing recycling infrastructure. We believe that deeply connecting the policy choices to scientific and technological understanding will result in better policy and better focused research. This will lead to significant growth in plastics recycling that aligns with society’s concerns. In this workshop we want to foster connections between researchers in the science, technology and policy spaces to address the complex challenges associated with designing effective polymer product and production systems.