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Nanomaterials and Polymers
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The BIOMAC project will establish a collaborative ecosystem (Open Innovation Test Bed) where technologies and solutions utilising bio-based nanomaterials and polymers will be upscaled and prepared for market applications.

But what are nanomaterials? And polymers? If you are not familiar with these terms, here is a short guide to orient yourself.

What are nanomaterials?

Nanomaterials are the materials made by very small particles, ranging from 1 to 100 nanometres. For example, the influenza virus is roughly 100 nanometres in diameter. At this dimension, materials start to behave in ways different to their bulk counterparts. Nanomaterials have peculiar physical, mechanical, chemical, and electronic properties and find revolutionary applications in a broad reach across diverse fields. Nanotechnology is one the European Union’s key enabling technologies and stands on the verge of launching a new technological revolution. Nano-enabled bio-based materials (NBMs) are the nanomaterials derived from materials of biological origin, such as biomass.

What are bio-based polymers?

Bio-based polymers are polymers derived from biomass, or synthesized from biomass-originated monomers, which have recently gained increasing interest as an alternative to fossil-based polymers. Global bioplastics production capacities are expected to increase by 36% from 2020 until 2025, thus reducing CO2 emissions by 60-80% and the needs for non-renewable energy use at about 70%.

Both demand and production of biobased polymers are continuously growing. Polylactic acid (PLA) is leading the biobased polymers market, and even if the production of PLA has significantly increased during the last years, in 2019 it sold out, witnessing the increasing demand for bio-based polymers.

What are nanocomposites?

Nanocomposites are a broad range of materials consisting of two or more components, with at least one component having dimensions in the nanometer regime (i.e., between 1 and 100 nm). Typically, they consist of a macroscopic matrix, and nanometer-sized particulates in small concentrations, called fillers. When the matrix materials are plastics or polymers in general, they are called polymer nanocomposites. Fillers can be: 1D (nanowires, nanotubes, nanofibers, layered solids), 2D (thin film coatings, quantum wells), or 3D (spherical nanoparticles, embedded networks). Polymer nanocomposites are produced by in-situ-polymerization, solvent casting and melt blending/compounding. Usually, less than 5 wt% of nanomaterials are needed to improve thermal or mechanical properties.

Advantages of polymer nanocomposites:

  1. Enhanced mechanical, electrical, optical, thermal, barrier or magnetic properties
  2. Enhanced antioxidant properties and UV stability
  3. High surface/volume ratio allows small filler content
  4. Lightweight
  5. Good processability

What are biodegradable polymers?

Biodegradable polymers are polymers that can undergo microbial conversion to carbon dioxide, new microbial biomass, and mineral salts in the presence of oxygen, or to carbon dioxide, methane, new microbial biomass, and mineral salts in the absence of oxygen. Practically, the polymer’s molecules break down to smaller compounds by enzymatic activity, which are then converted to CO2 and new microbial biomass. The use of biodegradable polymers instead of non-degradable ones can open new end-of-life waste management options, like anaerobic digestion and composting, potentially helping alleviate the growing problem of microplastics in the long run. Biodegradable polymers can be either bio-based (cellulose, starch, PLA, poly (butylene succinate)) or petrochemical-based (poly(ε-caprolactone)).