Recent Research Developments

Index of Recent Research News
August 18th, 2004
Renewable Resource Polymers for Polylactide Toughening

    Polylactide (PLA) is a biodegradable polyester that is available entirely from renewable resource feedstocks such as corn. Generally accessed by the ring opening polymerization of lactide, PLA is currently marketed for a variety of applications such as degradable sutures, food packaging, and textile products. However, the inherent brittleness of homopolymer PLA limits its use in applications where mechanical toughness is required (for instance appliance casings and automobile parts). One of the current research interests in Professor Marc A. Hillmyer's lab is the synthesis of environmentally friendly materials that could be used to toughen polylactide. Along these lines, recent work reported by Professor Hillmyer and graduate student Kathleen M. Schreck (Tetrahedron 2004, 60, 7177) detailed the synthesis of one such polymer, poly(alpha-methyl-beta-pentyl-beta-propiolactone) (PMPP), which was obtained by the ring opening polymerization of the corresponding a cyclic ester, MPP. MPP can be derived from renewable resources, thus rendering the approach attractive from an environmental standpoint. Using a zinc alkoxide catalyst originally developed at the University of Minnesota for lactide polymerization (JACS, 2003, 125, 11350), MPP was polymerized to high conversions (>99%) in the absence of side reactions. The subsequent addition of lactide to active PMPP chains proved to be an efficient method for accessing PMPP-b-PLA diblock copolymers. The effect of blending PMPP (a soft, amorphous material) and PMPP-b-PLA with PLA is currently being investigated, with the goal of producing toughened PLA composites composed completely of renewable resource-based, degradable materials.

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