This process combines a renewable source with green chemistry and could replace petrochemical-based monomers such as acrylates, which are currently used as building blocks for coatings, resins and paints. A paper on the new process was published in the journal Science Advances on 16 December.
Most coatings are made up of polymers based on acrylate monomers, with the global production of acrylate exceeding 3.5 million tonnes a year, all produced from fossil oil. UG and AkzoNobel aim to make these coatings more sustainable by cracking lignocellulose biomass using acid to produce furfural. Using visible light and oxygen, furfural is converted into hydroxybutenolide, that resembles acrylic acid. This is then modified using different green or biobased alcohols to produce alkoxybutenolide monomers, that can be polymerized into coatings using UV light.
“The chemical conversion uses only light, oxygen and a simple catalyst and produces no waste. The only by-product is methyl formate, which is useful as a replacement for chlorofluorocarbons in other processes”, says George Hermens, PhD candidate in the group of Professor of Organic Chemistry Ben Feringa and lead author of the Science Advances paper.
‘We managed to create coatings from a renewable source, lignocellulose, using green chemistry,’ concludes Hermens. ‘And the quality of our coatings is similar to that of current acrylate-based coatings.’ For two steps in the process, patent applications have been filed with AkzoNobel, the industrial partner in the project. Hermens is now working on a different building block derived from furfural to produce other types of polymer coatings.
The project was initiated by the Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks Consortium (ARC CBBC), a Dutch national public-private research centre that develops new chemical processes and chemical building blocks for novel energy carriers, materials and chemicals for sustainable chemistry.
The ARC CBBC is a national initiative with partners from industry, academia and government.There are three universities involved (Utrecht University, the University of Groningen and Eindhoven University of Technology) and major industrial partners (AkzoNobel, Shell, Nouryon and BASF), as well as the ministries of Education, Culture and Science and of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Dutch Research Council (NWO).