The transition from fossil-based industries to carbon-neutral and sustainable ones is a major challenge. Aromatic chemicals play an important role in commodity, fine and specialty chemicals, but their origin is still almost exclusively petrochemical.
While lignocellulosic biomass offers an important source of bioaromatics with a huge potential, its conversion to useful chemicals is still largely unaddressed.
The concept of biorefineries is under extensive development, but there is still a serious gap between the biobased building blocks delivered by the biorefineries and specific end products featuring suitable properties for concrete applications in industry.
New sustainable synthetic methods and routes are needed which will transform these interesting biobased building blocks into new product families. Instead of attempting to introduce biorenewable drop-ins, new biobased chemicals with at least similar performance are aimed for. Importantly, these should feature a better (eco)toxicity profile in comparison to the existing petrochemical analogues and avoid “regrettable substitutions” (solving legal bans of a product through introducing analogues with only slightly improved toxicity profile).
Recent studies of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) on relative release potential of around 400 major polymer additives, which in combination with compound specific risks (REACH studies) will allow to obtain real risk assessments of the additives, show the big concern of society towards these compounds. This project will focus on biobased plasticizers, antioxidants, UV stabilizers and flame retardants.
The long-term overall goal is to introduce new biobased plasticizers, antioxidants, UV stabilizers and flame retardants with performance comparable to or preferably superior to the currently used petrochemical molecules. In order to ensure this goal is achieved a benchmark against existing products for every class of polymer additives is required. Major steps in the development process are:
- development of new synthesis methods and routes to access new compound families
- performance assessment with feedback loop to 1
- (eco)toxicity assessment of the most promising candidates
- advanced characterization to optimize lead compounds with respect to performance.
The timescale of this development clearly goes beyond 18 months, but the first two steps will be targeted within this POC SBO to identify promising lead compounds for further development. Some preliminary (eco)toxicological tests of interesting leads are already foreseen.