The polymer production consumes more resources than any other sector of the chemicals industry and is a high priority to switch from fossil-fuel to sustainable feedstocks. As part of an EPSRC platform grant, we are working in this area in collaboration with research groups at the University of Oxford, Imperial College London and Newcastle University. A significant discovery at York is that furfurol and itaconic anhydride which are available from corn-cobs and fermentation of sugars respectively react together to give an oxa-norbornene acid which can be esterified with a wide range of (biomass derived) alcohols to form oxa-norbornene esters. The esters undergo ring opening metathesis polymerisation to give completely biomss derived polyalkenes.
Ongoing work is concerned with extending the range of norbornene monomers that can be prepared from biomass and developing bio-based routes to other polymer classes including polyesters, polyurethanes and polycarbonates.