Scientists at the University of York will lead a new government-backed research project to investigate the potential conversion of waste biomass and waste carbon dioxide into raw materials.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded the University's Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE) 3 million pounds (US$5 million) to develop industrially viable routes to replacements for petrochemically-derived polymers using waste biomass, such as orange peel, pine needles and sawdust.
The team at York will work with scientists specializng in polymer chemistry and process engineering at Imperial College and in process intensification at Newcastle University.
The five-year EPSRC project will also develop the chemistry and engineering required to transform waste biomass and carbon dioxide from agricultural and forestry waste into commodity polymers, specifically: polyalkanes, polyethers, polyesters, polycarbonates and polyurethanes.
GCCE's director, Professor James Clark, and its newly appointed professor of green chemistry, Professor Michael North, together with Thomas Farmer, will head the project. They will work in collaboration with industrial partners including Lotte Chemical UK, Econic Technologies, Plaxica and Bayer.
Clark said: "Plastics, and the polymers that make them, represent one of the greatest challenges for sustainable development since they are almost entirely sourced from non-renewable resources but are ubiquitous in modern life.
"By bringing together Michael North's expertise in carbon dioxide chemistry with the engineering skills of partners at Imperial College and Newcastle, and the core expertise in renewable resources and clean synthesis of the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, we can tackle this major societal challenge."
Minister for Science and Universities, David Willetts said: "As one of the eight great technologies of the future, Advanced Materials will ensure safer and more sustainable development of resources to boost the capability of UK manufacturing. This investment in research will help keep the UK ahead in the global race for exciting manufacturing innovations."