Exploring a revolutionary and eco-friendly way to make high-performance polymers

DSM, Maastricht University, and Eindhoven University of Technology joined forces in a new Chemelot InSciTe project aimed at eco-friendly solutions for making extra strong polymers by introducing new, unprecedented physical processes in extruders. The High PERformance BIObased POLycondensates (HiPerBiopol) project was launched in October 2018 and will run until the end of 2021.

Project leader Sanjay Rastogi – known for developing concepts that link fundamental science to industry – explains more. ‘We aim to develop eco-friendly solutions to make stronger and stiffer polymer materials. We can do this by using water in the processing of the polymer materials. Water molecules change the way the polymer molecules interact, and as a result we can design and obtain polymer materials with much better mechanical properties for application in the automotive and other industries. The whole project is driven by the way we use eco-friendly solvents, in this case water. We have found a new way to work safely, with a very limited risk of destroying the material and without using toxic chemicals, which makes this project unique worldwide.’

‘Accelerating Results’ is the theme of InSciTe’s annual report. Laurent Lefort and Sanjay Rastogi have a clear vision of the key factors within the HiPerBiopol project that help them accelerate.

Sanjay Rastogi explains, ‘The final goal is to implement the new processes developed within HiPerBiopol in a new, multi-purpose pilot plant on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, producing typically 30 kilograms of polymer granulate samples for application testing. The pilot plant is key for this project and would ultimately enable us to commercialize some of the new materials. We have set clear goals that we can focus on thanks to Laurent Lefort, who is the coordinator at InSciTe. It is quite the joint effort and involves a strong commitment from our partners: DSM bringing its expertise in terms of industrialization and sustainability, Eindhoven University of Technology for the theoretical investigation of the processing, and our group at Maastricht University. Needless to say, the success of the project also relies on the hard work and dedication of the excellent students involved in the project.’

Laurent Lefort emphasizes the important role that Sanjay Rastogi plays within the project. ‘All credits go to Sanjay as the initiator. In the process that he has initiated by mobilizing the key people, it is my task to enable them benefit from each other’s strengths.’

The openness of InSciTe’s management has also been important, says Sanjay, especially because this project is driven from the processing side. ‘This was fairly new to InSciTe, as previous projects were more driven by biobased monomers and chemistry. But this project also brings us one step closer to the final product: As you’re already working with the material, you can ensure a faster delivery of new applications of that material.’

The new technologies could make a significant contribution towards a circular economy without large investments

Sanjay Rastogi adds, ‘We can truly add value by bringing this to the market, as polymers have become a bulk commodity, such as for companies like DSM and BASF. Implementing this new polymer processing in water would therefore have a huge environmental impact.’

Implementing this new polymer processing in water would not require new equipment, which makes it very cost-efficient, says Laurent. ‘It is easy to apply, an almost “drop-in” technology. You could process it in the existing polymer processing equipment with some modifications, but many fewer compared with a new polymer. This enables you to produce an entirely new material with new properties and, on top of that, it’s an environmentally friendly way of processing.’

‘The project also contributes towards the circular economy,’ adds Sanjay Rastogi. ‘The process we are developing can be less energy-intensive than the current one. Apart from economics and environment, we strive to change people’s mindsets by providing them with the design functionalities we are developing and making them think of new applications and new markets. In this way, the HiPerBiopol project also contributes towards InSciTe’s overall goals: addressing societal challenges and economic opportunities of sustainable product development.’

 

Sanjay Rastogi

Sanjay Rastogi is originally from India and studied at the University of Bristol in the UK. He has been living and working in the Netherlands for quite some time now and has a background in both industry and science. Sanjay holds a Chair in Polymer Physics at Maastricht University (the Netherlands). Within the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials (AMIBM), he also provides leadership to a group of assistant professors, a team of PhD students, and post-doctoral research fellows.

Before moving to Maastricht University, Sanjay was an assistant and associate professor at Eindhoven University of Technology. He held a professorship in polymer science and technology at Loughborough University (UK) and received a stipend under the Max Planck Society fellowship programme. For nearly eight years, he was a principal scientist at Teijin Aramid (the Netherlands) and was recognized as the Global Senior Technical Expert for Teijin.

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Laurent Lefort

Laurent Lefort is a senior chemist at InnoSyn B.V. He was born and raised in Nancy (France). After spending a few years in the USA for his postdoctoral degree at the University of Rochester and at Symyx, a start-up in Silicon Valley, he transferred to the Innovative Synthesis department at DSM in Geleen. His work there mainly involved the development of new catalytic processes for making pharmaceutical building blocks. When this department continued as an autonomous company outside DSM under the name InnoSyn B.V in 2016, Laurent joined it. Laurent’s role there at present is two-fold: as a senior scientist in the field of chemo-catalysis and as a project leader. Laurent is also involved as a project manager for Chemelot InSciTe in the HiPerBiopol project.

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