Sustainable Polymeric Nanocomposites
Finite supplies of increasingly dirty petroleum, climate changes due to carbon dioxide emissions and communities choking in pollution caused by manufacturing as well as their own solid wastes are pressing environmental problems. Because of these problems, sustainability is becoming a leading issue in the plastics industries - disposal options are increasingly limited in major markets such as California. Present generation plastics, including plastic nanocompsites, suffer from a variety of drawbacks with respect to environmental impact. These deleterious effects are substantiated by life cycle analysis studies appearing in the open literature.
Environmentally benign plastic materials can be envisioned but technical challenges must first be met. The Phase I project goal is to demonstrate that it is possible to create plastic nanocomposits based on 100% renewable resources in an economical fashion utilizing twin-screw extrusion technology. Novel cellulosic nanowhiskers will be used along with a corn-base plastic to create a new class of materials known as ecobionanocomposites. The primary technical challenge involves how to rapidly complete both polymerization and mixing within the residence time limitations of an extrusion process. The key innovation is the development of a general, new and novel hybrid manufacturing route for polymer nanocomposites. The feasibility of the proposed reactive extrusion approach will be proven in Phase I and optimal operating conditions for full-scale production will be determined in Phase II. Significant pollution prevention would be achieved if these new materials were adapted in place of petroleum based plastic. However, issues regarding the economic viability of the innovative ecologically responsible polymer nanocomposites must be addressed.
This project addresses the critical need for improved environmental sustainability in the worldwide plastics industries through the development of environmentally benign polymer nanocomposites. The market for worldwide polymer nanocomposites, nanoparticles, nanoclalys, and nanotubes is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 18.4% and surpass $211 million by 2008. The feasibility demonstrated in Phase I will serve as the basis of a detailed optimization at commercial production rates in Phase II; once an optimized formulation and an economical process are developed, private funding will be readily available in Phase III. The commercial potential is very large in terms of annual sales and potentially very profitable. The new plastic nanocomposites based on renewable resources will have a variety of economic and environmental benefits, they will allow continued growth in the plastics industries and accompanying domestic employment without compromising the global environment.
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