NREL researchers have developed a groundbreaking method that uses non-toxic resources such as linseed oil, waste oil and even algae to produce renewable polyurethane without toxic precursors. This is a breakthrough that has the potential to green the market for footwear, automobiles, mattresses and other products.
Speed up the process with natural oils
NREL’s chemical reaction reacts natural oils with easily available carbon dioxide to produce renewable non-toxic polyurethane, which is a way to create a variety of green materials and products.
The real challenge is to figure out how to speed up the reaction to compete with traditional craftsmanship. Researchers need to produce polymers with at least the same properties as traditional materials, which is a major technical obstacle to the commercialization of bio-based polyurethanes.
“The bio-based non-isocyanate methods described in the literature are slower,” NREL Tao Dong explains. “Therefore, we need to ensure that our reactivity is comparable to traditional chemistry.”
NREL’s process overcomes this obstacle by developing bio-based formulations through clever chemical processes. It starts with the epoxidation process, which prepares the base oil (anything from canola oil or linseed oil to algae or food residue) for further chemical reactions. By reacting these epoxidized fatty acids with CO 2 in the air or flue gas, carbonated monomers are produced. Finally, the researchers combined carbonated monomers with diamines (derived from amino acids, another bio-based source) during the polymerization process to produce a material that can be cured into a resin-non-isocyanate polyurethane.
By replacing petroleum-based polyols with selected natural oils, and replacing toxic isocyanates with bio-based amino acids, the researchers managed to synthesize polymers with properties comparable to traditional polyurethanes. In other words, they developed a viable, renewable, non-toxic alternative to conventional polyurethane. Chemical reactions also increase environmental benefits.
“As much as 30% of the weight of the final polymer is CO 2 ,” Phil Pienkos said, adding that considering the amount of oil and amino acids produced by the CO 2 absorbed by plants or algae, it is even more impressive. First place.
Increase the value of CO2
CO2 is a ubiquitous greenhouse gas, which is generally regarded as an unfortunate waste in various industrial processes, prompting many companies to look for ways to absorb, eliminate or even use it as a potential source of profit. By incorporating CO 2 into the structure of polyurethane, Pienkos and Dong provided a way to increase its value. Pienkos continued:
“This means that fewer raw materials are required per pound of polymer, lower costs, and a lower overall carbon footprint.” “We think this provides a significant opportunity for sustainability.”
to satisfy the market’s needs
The next step is to see whether the process can be commercialized and scale up to meet market demand.
After all, whether it is renewable or not, polyurethane needs to prove consumer expectations for brand-name products. The process of creating it must also match the company’s manufacturing process, so that they can “invest” in new materials without having to spend huge amounts of money to upgrade facilities or equipment.
“This is why we need to work with industry partners,” Dong explained, “to ensure that our research is consistent with their manufacturing process.”
In just two years since researchers first demonstrated the feasibility of producing fully renewable, non-toxic polyurethane, many companies have contributed resources and research partnerships in promoting its commercialization.
For example, by controlling the epoxidation process or the amount of carbonization, the process can be adapted to meet the performance requirements of the product. This allows the outsole of a pair of running shoes to have enough flexibility and strength to withstand the impact of many miles in hot or cold asphalt. Or it can balance the stiffness and support of the mattress.
“This is driven by regulations. It is attractive in the market. Based on cost, it has the potential to compete with non-renewable energy. It has a lower carbon footprint. Everything is there,” Pienkos said of commercialization opportunities. “This became the most exciting aspect of my NREL career. So when I retire, I decided to achieve this goal. I want to see this technology actually bring it to market.”
“I think this is a good opportunity to solve the problem of plastic pollution.” “We need to protect our environment, part of which starts with the manufacture of renewable plastics.”
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Link to this article：Researchers develop new methods for renewable polyurethane
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