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Bio-source-based recyclable poly (ester-co-amide)s and poly (ester-co-urethane)s for industrial foam applications

The purpose of the Biofoam project is to develop new types of aliphatic block co-polyesters, poly(ester-amide)s and poly(ester-urethane)s, and industrially important foams made from these. The combination of inexpensive renewable bio-source based feedstock, efficient chemical synthesis, and high value foam applications leads to an innovative approach to make biopolymers competitive in the marketplace. The new low-cost biopolymers (<1 euro/kg) provide opportunities for tailored biodegradability and performance properties. A foam manufacturing process is optimised for biopolymer processing by using newly developed 3-D foaming process simulation software. An integrated life cycle management analysis methodology directs engineering decisions at each stage of the product development cycle. Environmental, economic and societal aspects are simultaneously assessed. The project is managed following a commercial technology staging work process. A multi-disciplinary approach from leading experts in complementary industrial and academic fields will be used to achieve the Biofoam project objectives.

The Biofoam project objectives are:
1) to define and use a renewable bio-source based feedstock for the synthesis of recyclable aliphatic block-co-polyesters with an emphasis on poly(ester-co-amide)s and poly(ester-co-urethane)s
2) to synthesise chemically with high efficiency a range of block co-polyesters that meet the processing and intrinsic property requirements of a foam application at a cost of less than 1 euro per kg
3) to develop industrially important biopolymer foams that contribute to the efficient and cost effective recyclability of waste streams. At least one novel biopolymer for a high value, foam market application will be developed, which is currently dominated by polyurethane, polystyrene and emulsion polymers
4) to develop a numerical model that allows quantitative 3-D predictions of a foaming process for chemical and physical blowing agents, taking into account the novel biopolymer rheology and processing conditions
5) to develop and apply a life cycle management analysis (LCMA) method that integrates economic, environmental and societal considerations to direct the renewable bio-source, biopolymer and biofoam developments. The methodology will then be integrated into a software package to provide a European work-process guideline for new product developments

The Biofoam project aims to develop new types of aliphatic block co-polyesters that will tackle biopolymer issues in an innovative fashion. New block-co-polyesters will be synthesised for use in rigid and flexible foam applications. All possible routes for developing an inexpensive bio-source feedstock will be explored. Based on patented technology from the University of Twente, block co-polyesters of the type polyester-co-amide and polyester-co-urethane biopolymers will be first prepared on a laboratory scale. Subsequently, selected biopolymer compositions that meet the criteria of low cost, recyclability, environmental friendliness and performance properties for targeted foam applications will be manufactured on a pilot plant scale. An intensive property characterisation combined with numerical modelling of the foaming process will guide the final biopolymer selection. Existing foam processing equipment will be optimised for maximising the structural performance of the biopolymer. Eventually, specific foam applications will be tested and presented as alternatives to selected polyurethane, polystyrene and emulsion polymer foam applications. The biofoam's recyclability will be studied in terms of material recovery, bio-source recovery, energy recovery and biodegradability. An innovative life cycle management analysis will be used to support all critical decisions in the various work packages.

Phase segregated poly(ester-amide) block copolymers were identified as the most suitable candidates to meet the properties required by the application. The project focused on the synthesis and in depth analysis of Poly(ester-coamide)s (PEA) and correlates composition to physico-chemical performance.
The polymer composition dictates the monomers to be searched for. The retro-monomer approach was applied to identify potential bio-source routes to the required monomers.
Complete pathways for use of renewable feedstock were defined and validated. Sugar derived from corn was identified as a suitable renewable bio-source based feedstock for the desired monomers required for the PEA synthesis.
An extensive study of suitable synthetic pathways to obtain the monomers from a bio-based feedstock was carried out. The most promising (i.e. technically feasible and economically acceptable) routes were defined and validated at laboratory scale.
Bio-based feedstock chemicals were prepared (typically 100 g) to synthesise a range of PEA block co-polymers identifying them to be similar in composition and performance as the petro-based feedstock PEAs. Proof has been delivered that PEAs can be produced from renewable monomers exclusively. The key processes to produce those
renewable monomers have been delineated.
Extensive molecular-, meso- and macro structural characterisation was performed including the use of combined characterisation methods such as rheo-optics and thermo-microscopy to capture the dynamics of crystallisation.
For scale-up from laboratory (g) to pilot plant (1- 5 kg) a solvent free polymerisation method was developed.
Important process modifications were introduced to improve selectivity and yield of the PEA synthesis. The physicomechanical properties of the materials produced meet those of the laboratory reference materials.
The ultimate price range for the polymers was defined as 2-4 Euro/kg with an additional Euro/kg when bio-based feedstock is used. The pricing is relevant for the current market conditions.
Range finding foam expansion experiments indicated the need for sufficiently high molecular mass PEAs to obtain acceptable foams using carbon dioxide as blowing agent.
Exploratory application development was started and has identified various unique opportunities.
A novel generalized Newtonian, non-isothermal full 3D foaming model was developed for predicting microstructure (bubble growth) and macro-flow fields. Foam bubble growth models have reached such refinement that both realistic foam structures and the foam flow in the mould can be mathematically simulated. The module has been integrated into the commercial REM3D® package and used for advanced injection molding for automotive business.
A new approach to Life Cycle Management Analysis, including decision software (Gabi4), was developed. The approach followed takes into account environmental as well as the socio-economic aspects of the new PEAs.


Scientist responsible for the project

Herbert H. Dowweg 5 Box 48
4530 AA Terneuzen
Netherlands (The) - NL

Phone: +31 115672122
Fax: +31 115673315


Project ID QLRT-1999-01298
Organisation DOW BENELUX N.V.
Area 5.2
Start date 01 January 2000
Duration (months) 36
Total cost 5 892 500 €
Total EC contribution   3 270 000 €
Status Completed

The partners

  • Agrotechnological Research Institute, Netherlands (The) - NL

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