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Biocomposites, the challenge of obtaining resins and coatings from 100% natural and renewable sources

CETIM is committed to bioeconomy and circular economy, also applied to the plastics sector, to achieve a renewable and environmentally sustainable industry that minimizes its dependence on fossil sources. We research the obtaining of both thermostable and thermoplastic biopolymers, from a wide variety of natural primary and secondary sources. We work on their final application in sectors such as wind power, construction or chemicals.

 

The first use of polymers by humans dates back to the 16th century BC when Mesoamerican cultures discovered how to process latex from some plants. The first biopolymer in history was thus obtained: natural rubber. 3,000 years later, in 1839, Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanization process, obtaining a vulcanized rubber with better properties that allowed its use at industrial level. Almost 100 years later, in 1909, Leo Baekeland synthesised Bakelite, the first completely synthetic plastic. By 1930 scientists were already creating many of the modern polymers we know today. These modern polymers have a great versatility and variety of characteristics, which have made plastic an indispensable material – a must-have in our daily lives for countless uses. But their demand for more and more products has led to major environmental problems. On one hand, they are products of non-renewable origin: more than 80% of the polymers used worldwide are derivatives or by-products of the oil industry. On the other hand, they generate a large amount of non-biodegradable waste, most of which is not properly disposed of – presenting great impacts for the different ecosystems of the planet and human health, such as the increasing presence of microplastics in fish that we consume.

 

CETIM researches working with lignin.

 

At CETIM we are committed to bioeconomics and circular economy, also applied to the plastics sector, in order to achieve a renewable and environmentally sustainable industry that minimises its dependence on fossil sources. As a result of our expertise in advanced polymeric materials and bioprocesses, and of our collaboration with partners from very different sectors, we research the obtention of thermostable and thermoplastic biopolymers from a wide variety of natural primary and secondary sources – vegetable oils, dairy derivatives, food by-products, agricultural waste, etc.

 

On one hand, CETIM works on obtaining thermostable biocomposites from natural sources, mainly lignin and vegetable oils. Projects such as DICKENS are proposed from an integral point of view, investigating the obtention of plastic biomatrices, biocharges, and bioadditives; and optimizing their production through innovative, safe and sustainable technologies. One of the main objectives of this project is to obtain bio-based materials (primers, bioresins, or biorecoverings, among others). In the words of Marcos Sánchez, head researcher of polymers and coatings in the Advanced Materials area of CETIM, “we aim to obtain completely sustainable and commercially viable products that improve the properties of their current analogues, which come from fossil sources”. These materials may represent a revolution in many sectors, such as chemical solutions and construction, and in applications such as additive manufacturing, composite parts, coatings, adhesives, etc. “thanks to their renewable nature, availability and low cost”, emphasises Marcos Sánchez. Furthermore, thanks to the use of bioadditives and bioloads developed, they can serve to reduce the use of reinforcing fibres, such as glass or carbon and/or synthetic and/or harmful additives.

 

Marcos Sánchez, investigador principal de Polímeros y coatings de CETIM.

Marcos Sánchez, CETIM’s Polymers and coatings Senior Researcher.

On the other hand, CETIM also researches the production of bioplastics from natural waste sources in projects such as BIOPOL or BiopAgro. In this last one, the consortium uses different agro-food resources as raw material to obtain them. It develops and validates strategic ways of using agro-food by-products and non-food or disused agricultural crops to obtain biopolymers. All of this is integrated into a production system that includes the entire product value chain and represents a clear leap towards a circular economy. As a final product of the project, the aim is to obtain high-performance biopolymer compounds, optimised for use in new, sustainable bio-derived products for sectors of interest such as piping, automotive industry and food packaging. One of the challenges faced by this project lies in the research and optimisation of the most suitable agro-food wastes and by-products, and crops of interest for obtaining biopolymers. For this purpose, the elements that have the best capacity to be used for the extraction of biopolymers are identified, and subsequently the different varieties and cultivation conditions will be investigated in order to maximise production rates while reducing water consumption.

 

We promote bioeconomy
Both projects represent a boost and a motivation for the development of the Bioeconomy in Galicia and Spain, and positioning our country at the forefront of Europe. Likewise, they are completely aligned with the European Strategy for Circular Economy, positively impacting on four of the priority areas established by the EU – Plastics, Food Waste, Biomass and Bioproducts and Innovation. Similarly, it will contribute to the fulfilment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and promote the European Strategy for Plastics, where bioplastics are identified as crucial drivers for innovation and the development of a circular and sustainable plastics economy.

 

Aceites vegetales y ligninas y celulosas son las principales materias primas investigadas en DICKENS para obtener biopolímeros termoestables y termoplásticos; en BiopAgro se desarrollan bioplásticos a partir de subproductos agroalimentarios.

Vegetable oils and lignins and celluloses are the main raw materials investigated at DICKENS to obtain thermosetting and thermoplastic biopolymers; BiopAgro develops bioplastics from agri-food by-products.

 

We collaborate with leading industries
Most of CETIM’s projects are born from our multi-sector character and would not be possible without the collaboration of our partners and clients from sectors such as waste, plastic, chemical industry, research, etc. With them we carry out these investigations that allow us to develop concepts such as bio-economy, circular economy, bio-energy or bio-based products with a high added value. In CIEN DICKENS and RETOS Colaboración Biop-Agro we work with companies such as BASF, QMC, Pinturas Bruper, CARINSA, Omar Coatings, ENCE, or Grupo ABN.