Advanced Polymers, Fibers & Coatings

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The Center for Advanced Polymers, Fibers & Coatings has a single goal: to develop materials and plastic replacements that completely break down and return to nature when discarded, either in soil, water, or marine environments. The Center for Advanced Polymers, Fibers and Coatings is led by Jason Locklin, co-director of the New Materials Institute and an associate professor of chemistry and engineering.

Polymers, fibers and coatings — the foundational materials used to manufacture products and product packaging — are in the midst of a transformative revolution, as businesses worldwide respond to the global demand for greater sustainability in manufactured products and product packaging.

The Center for Advanced Polymers, Fibers and Coatings partners with companies to help them design and optimize healthier materials for use in packaging and products, such as building materials, clothing, diapers, car parts, toys and other common items. We utilize the principles of Green Engineering to develop durable polymers, fibers and coatings based on biodegradable, bio-benign, and recycled or recovered materials that combine high efficiency, mechanical robustness, permeability and flexibility. Our materials are engineered so that they do not release metals, toxins or other persistent chemicals into our environment.

UGA’s research focus includes:

Chemical derivatization of natural glycopolymers

With researchers from UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, we are developing modified cellulosics, hemicellulosics, and pectins that can be used in a wide variety of applications including packaging, superabsorbents, thermosets, and coatings. Research includes both chemical and enzymatic modifications, along with precise structural characterization, to better understand the structure/property relationships in these classes of materials.

Microbial processes to synthesize new polymers that replace petroleum-based polymers

We are developing microorganisms that direct natural and renewable materials, like sugars and oils, into specialty and commodity polymers. These polymers have applications as elastomers and thermoplastics, and even as wound-healing agents. In addition to being more sustainable, using microbes to generate products often reduces the chemical footprint of polymer-production processes. Our research includes both the development of the microorganisms, as well as engineering and designing processes to use these microorganisms effectively.

New mechanical processing technologies (milling, extrusion, gel formation) for carbohydrate- and protein-based feedstocks

Because of their versatility and varied origins, these materials can be processed by thermomechanical molding in the same way as conventional plastics. At UGA, the NMI is investigating the thermal, mechanical, water susceptibility, biodegradability, and antibacterial properties of both natural glycopolymers and proteins, including whey, albumin, and algae proteins and their thermoplastic blends with traditional synthetic polymers.

Biodegradation studies

We are quantifying the degradation of bioplastics and composites under different conditions (aerobic and anaerobic) using ASTM and ISO standards.  Laboratory testing and guidance includes soil biodegradation and marine biodegradation in a variety of mediums including industrial and household compost, soil, freshwater, and saltwater.

Nanocellulose-based textile finishing and dyeing, energy harvesting/storage and electroconductive coatings

UGA researchers are developing nanofibrillated cellulose (NC) gels that can be deposited on the surface of single filament fibers, yarns and fabrics made of synthetic and natural polymers. The sustainable raw material prepared by biomass processing can be used as a biocompatible, biodegradable host for various functional molecules and particles, for example dyes, electroconductive metal nanowires, and nanothermocapsules. NC fibers can function as binding sites for functional particulates, resulting in composites that can be adjusted to coatings on the surfaces of building walls, furniture, roofing, and as finishes for clothing fabrics, footwear, carpets and bedding textiles.

Nanofiber and microfiber manufacturing

UGA researchers have developed new methods for nanofiber manufacturing, including magnetospinning, touch-, brush-spinning and reactive spinning. These methods differ from older, commonly used methods due to direct mechanical control over nanofiber collection, alignment in 2D- and 3D-structures, post-spinning drawing and better control of reactive spinning with involvement of diffusion-limited reactions. The biodegradable and biocompatible nanofibers can be used for tissue engineering and cell culture scaffolds; sensors; carriers for enzymes and catalysts; and reinforced composite materials.