Platform Molecules to Polymers for Personal Care
Dr Thomas Farmer - University of York

Presentation - pdf

Abstract: Utilisation of polymers in personal care is incredibly diverse, applying a rich mixture of chemical functionality to achieve performance. However, many of these polymers are derived from non-renewable petrochemicals, may require the use of hazardous monomers, and ultimately have major concerns regarding end-of-life. As we move towards development of more sustainable chemical industry we are seeing the re-emergence of biomass as a promising renewable feedstock. Key to this conversion of biomass through to products are a set of small building-block chemicals, so called Platform Molecules. Indeed, a recent study by the Lignocellulosic Biorefinery Network (LBNet) proposed a list of the 10 most promising platform molecules for the UK,1 and these are seen as fundamental to delivering the 2018-2030 UK Bioeconomy Strategy.2 The elemental composition difference between conventional fossil resources vs biomass means that platform molecules, and the resultant future sustainable monomers, will most likely contain significantly higher oxygen content relative to their petrochemical predecessors. This brings both challenges and opportunities for the personal care industry, new properties and new products will come to market but a greater abundance of polyesters might also improve end-of-life options. The talk summarises the points above, gives some examples of innovative bio-based polymers prepared in my group, and attempts to predict where efforts to sustainable personal care polymer research should most logically be focussed.


Dr Thomas Farmer is leader of the Clean Synthesis Technology Platform within the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York, UK. His PhD (York, 2005-09). His current research focuses on the development of cleaner manufacturing technologies and processes where efficiency is maximised and waste is minimised. This includes the application of microwave and ultrasound reactors, heterogeneous catalysis, enzymatic catalysis and the development of new sustainable solvents. Thomas is an expert in biomass building-block chemicals (platform molecules) for the production of higher value chemicals and materials, and he previously worked for Unilever PLC as a Polymer Scientist. His current research projects include the formation of various polymer classes using bio-derived platform molecules (Sustainable Polymers, EPSRC; EnzPoly, BBSRC; CHAMPION, H2020/BBI) as well as new safer bio-based solvents (ReSolve, H2020/BBI).

Q&A (answered in chat)

Q. How secure is the supply of these biomass materials? also scale of the current production or how scalable is the process.

A. If you mean security of supply of certain platform molecules then certainly there is currently very large variation in this. For example itaconic acid and furfural are well established bio-based commodity chemicals, while others such as muconic acid are only now emerging. Supply of the biomass feedstock itself is also variable (seasonality etc.) but if we focus more on the lignocellulose components then these are present in all (so can avoid seasonality) and in much greater quantities.