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Sustainable polymers from renewable resources

Abstract

Renewable resources are used increasingly in the production of polymers. In particular, monomers such as carbon dioxide, terpenes, vegetable oils and carbohydrates can be used as feedstocks for the manufacture of a variety of sustainable materials and products, including elastomers, plastics, hydrogels, flexible electronics, resins, engineering polymers and composites. Efficient catalysis is required to produce monomers, to facilitate selective polymerizations and to enable recycling or upcycling of waste materials. There are opportunities to use such sustainable polymers in both high-value areas and in basic applications such as packaging. Life-cycle assessment can be used to quantify the environmental benefits of sustainable polymers.

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Figure 1: Options for replacing petrochemicals as raw materials in the manufacture of polymers.
Figure 2: Upcycling of carbon dioxide into sustainable polymers of high value.
Figure 3: Sustainable polymers produced from terpenes and terpenoids.
Figure 4: Sustainable polymers produced from vegetable oils.
Figure 5: Sustainable polymers produced from polysaccharides.

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Acknowledgements

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/K035274/1, EP/M013839/1, EP/L017393/1 and EP/K014070/1) and the China Scholarship Council Imperial Scholarship (Y.Z.) are acknowledged for funding.

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C.K.W. is a director and founder of Econic Technologies.

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Zhu, Y., Romain, C. & Williams, C. Sustainable polymers from renewable resources. Nature 540, 354–362 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature21001

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