As “molecular designers” chemists are able to design and produce a diverse range of polymers, fillers and coatings with distinct properties for specific purposes. These are used in industry to manufacture a very wide range of highly sophisticated products that may need to last for a long time, e.g. car parts and building materials, or that have short lifetimes and need to (bio)degrade post use, e.g. packaging and personal care products. In spite of the very different lifetime requirements and end-of-life fates of such materials we often use a small range of very robust and persistent polymers as the major component. In a truly Circular Economy approach, we should match the lifetime and end-of-life fate of materials and take this into account in the design stage asking the following questions, amongst many others:
1. Will the material be recovered and recycled many times? If so, we need it to be robust and must avoid contamination that frustrates recovery and remanufacture.
2. Will the material be a “single-use” and then be discarded to landfill or waste-water treatment plant? If so, we need it to be stable on the shelf until it is used, but to degrade readily to innocuous products when it is discarded.
In addition to these issues, we must also consider the source of the raw material (is it made from fossil carbon or from a renewable source), its production (is the process “clean and green”) and its function (does it do what we need it to do)? These topics will be discussed using specific case studies to demonstrate that more sustainable materials can be devised if we start with appropriate design principles that include sustainability and fit with the circular economy.
Dr Janet L. Scott, CChem, FRSC, is a Reader in the Department of Chemistry and Training Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training on Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath. She has a background in both industry and academia in three countries:
·Lecturer, Dept. Chemistry, University of Cape Town, South Africa, 1992-1996; R&D Manager Fine Chemicals Corporation Ltd., South Africa, 1996-1998;
·Research Fellow/Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre for Green Chemistry, Monash University, Australia, 1999-2006;
·Senior Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge Fellow, Unilever, UK, 2006-2008; and Director JLS ChemConsult Ltd., UK, 2008-2015.
Janet is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (from 2004), a Titular Member of Division III of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and Secretary of the Interdivisional Committee on Green Chemistry for Sustainable Development (IUPAC ICGCSD).
Current research focus is on sustainable materials, particularly those derived from abundant and renewable biopolymers and Janet works closely with computational chemists, electrochemists, chemical and tissue engineering experts, physicists, mechanical engineers and even architects on a range of interdisciplinary projects including projects funded by the EPSRC, Innovate UK and the European Union’s H2020 programme. All projects include industrial partners as the conversion of research into sustainable materials into real products that impact directly on the development of more sustainable products and goods is deemed important.