Group Transfer Polymerization of Methacrylates

Great work by Dan in his new Macromolecules paper! The paper details our work in developing novel titanium-amino-phenolates complexes for the radical polymerisation of methyl methacrylate. The polymerization is possible without the need for a co-catalyst or activator and gives good control over molecular weight, as expected with a controlled radical polymerization. These systems however proceed via a unique bimetallic group transfer process, providing insight into titanium-mediated radical reactions and polymerizations.

Compostable Sales Soar!

With the UK throwing away 2.5bn coffee cups a year, the “latte levy” of 25p on plastic disposable cups was welcome progress on government policy addressing single-use plastic waste. The EU has also announced plans to ban single-use plastics – ranging from plastic straws to a reduction in food and drink packaging.

For some businesses, such as the Houses of Parliament, this has drawn their attention towards compostable products as an alternative for food packaging. It was recently announced that Vegware has seen its sales increase 50% since the discussions around disposale cups and straws started! However the compostable packaging requires special disposal at composting plants and is not compatible with ordinary waste dumps. Vegware has pledged to collect waste from businesses it supplies to try and solve this problem – but commercial composting is currently very regional in the UK.

Landfill taxes can encourage a shift towards recyclable and compostable packaging options. However, as pointed out by the Scottish Green Party and Friends of the Earth Scotland, its important that we don’t think about replacing one single-use plastic with another. Compostable packaging has a place, especially with UK-wide composting coverage, but only where a disposable option is truly needed.

“If you were going to a festival you should have a reusable cup for your beer, but for your falafels, you should probably use Vegware.”

GML at Greater Manchester Green Summit

Following on from the GML joining Manchester’s RE3 project, Prof. Shaver represented the University of Manchester and the Henry Royce Institute at the recent Greater Manchester Green Summit! Greater Manchester has ambitious plans to be a carbon neutral city by 2032 and to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2020, lots of positive discussion was had at the summit surrounding these aims.

Mike outlined the scale of the problem with plastic waste, with 40 billion tonnes of plastic waste projected to be present on Earth by 2050. Greater Manchester is well placed to provide a sustainability model for others to follow – with attitudes moving away from going “plastic-free” resulting in increased food waste, and instead towards focusing on using better materials and using current ones in a smarter way.

While development of new materials including biodegradable and self-repairing polymers is key, organisations and individuals need to take responsibility for their plastic use. The way we deal with this generated waste also needs to be managed more effectively in considering what we can and should biodegrade, reuse and recycle. Collaboration between academia, industry and the public sector is vital in this respect, with projects such as the RE3 facilitating such collaboration.

Take a look here for more details on the summit.

GML joins EPSRC RE3 project- Rethinking Resources and Recycling

Manchester is at the heart of the UK’s shift to a sustainable plastic society. Greater Manchester plans to minimise single-use plastics by 2020, providing a leading example to the rest of the UK, where a 2042 target has been set by the government for elimination of avoidable plastic waste. It is essential that we realise that often plastic is the best material for the job – from both an energy and a property perspective – and thus it is about intelligent choices of how we reuse, recycle and degrade these materials that underpins progress. Following our move to the University of Manchester, the Green Materials Laboratory are excited to be collaborating on the EPSRC funded RE3 project, with the aim of addressing plastic waste stream and supply chain challenges in the UK.

This interdisciplinary project seeks to target both the technological and societal sides of the 5 million tonnes of plastic waste being generated in the UK annually. A consortium has been formed of manufacturing, social, and material scientists, as well as several other academic and industrial partners, to provide practical solutions and thought leadership in valorising these plastic waste streams and creating sustainable business models. The project also aims to enable development of new degradable polymers to reduce our current reliance on single-use plastics from non-renewable feedstocks. Collaborating in this consortium allows us the unique opportunity to couple our expertise with that of other academics at the University of Manchester, as well as both industrial and local authority partners. We appreciate the new perspectives on what is a massive global challenge!

For more information, check out the link here…. RE3 – Rethinking Resources and Recycling

Ring-opening polymerisation of dioxolanones

Congrats to Yuechao and Mitch for their latest work on ROP of dioxolanones!

The paper builds on our previous work on the synthesis of poly(α-hydroxy acid)s where we found elimination of formaldehyde to be the favoured driving force. Here, the impact of a competing Tischchenko side reaction via the liberated formaldehyde was probed and found to lead to significant reductions in molecular weight. Polymerisation under dynamic vacuum reduces the tendency towards this side reaction through removal of formaldehyde, while use of a water jacketed reactor avoids loss of monomer. Crystalline poly(mandelic acid) was formed under these conditions, giving thermal properties competitive to that of polystyrene!