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Eugene Chen, professor in the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State University, has led a new study demonstrating a chemical catalysis path for making an existing class of biomaterials even more commercially viable and structurally diverse.
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PHA’s are normally made in bioreactors where communities of bacteria convert biorenewable carbon feedstocks, such as sugars, into PHA derivatives. These biosynthesis setups are currently expensive, relatively slow and hampered by their limited scalability and productivity.

In a paper in the journal Science, Chen et al attack those limitations one by one, offering a novel, chemical synthetic pathway for making conventional and new PHAs with enhanced, tunable, mechanical and physical properties.

Polymerization method

The CSU polymer chemists report that their new polymerization methodology is enabled by catalysts that directly polymerize a bio-sourced monomer called 8DL that exists in a form called stereo-isomers. The catalyzed polymerization produces orderly, crystalline, so-called “stereosequenced” PHA’s. In the lab, the researchers showed their materials’ ductility and toughness, and their ability to tune the structure and function of their materials.