The National Science Foundation has named UCSB and UCLA joint partners in a $23.7 million collaboration to develop new sustainable polymers.
The collaboration, announced Wednesday, is known as the BioPolymers, Automated Cellular Infrastructure, Flow, and Integrated Chemistry: Materials Innovation Platform, or BioPACIFIC MIP.
Part of the NSF Materials Innovation Platforms Program, the five-year collaboration was created in an effort to reduce the environmental impact of plastics by developing new bio-based, high-performance alternatives to petroleum-based polymers.
“People have been wanting to move toward sustainable, bio-based polymer materials, but it’s really challenging to move away from petroleum-based ones, which we already know how to engineer into high-performance materials,” Dr. Javier Read de Alaniz, a UCSB professor of chemistry and BioPACIFIC MIP co-PI, said in a statement. “The Holy Grail question is how do we engineer high-performance bio-based materials? That hasn’t been identified yet. That is our goal.”
BioPACIFIC MIP will include 13 faculty and affiliates from UCSB and seven from UCLA and is only one of two MIPs awarded this year. The other being GlycoMIP led by Virgnia Tech and the University of Georgia.
“We aim for BioPACIFIC to provide users from an extensive array of academic and industry partners with the tools and technology guidance needed to make new breakthroughs in the area of biomaterial synthesis, even if they themselves do not have the necessary expertise,” Dr. Tal Margalith, executive director of BioPACIFIC MIP, said in a statement.
By identifying microorganisms that can be used as biological “factories,” BioPACIFIC MIP will work to generate the building blocks of bio-based plastics that will be superior to petroleum-based materials.
“Nature has an expansive range of functional building blocks, and we now know it’s possible to synthesize them into better macro-materials, like polymers,” Dr. Read de Alaniz said in a statement. “We will be extracting blocks from nature that you can’t access in any other way and then using synthetic routes to combine them into materials that have properties that don’t currently exist.”
The release states that experts in biosynthesis, polymerization technology, material characterization, and polymer physics and simulation will work closely to change how yeast, fungi and bacteria use their biological factories to generate these building blocks. While they do so, they will have access to state-of-the-art fabrication, characterization and screening tools at both UCSB and UCLA.
Since 2000, UCSB and UCLA have been partners in the California Nanosystems Institute, which aims to leverage public and private investment for nanoscience research at the interface between disciplines, translate discoveries into knowledge-driven commercial enterprises, and educate the next generation of scientists engineers. Dr. Read de Alaniz serves as the associate director of the CNSI at UCSB.
In addition to creating high-performance alternatives to petroleum-based polymers, Dr. Margalith told the News-Press he expects BioPACIFIC MIP will create more opportunities for local startup companies within the industry, because they already have all the facilities necessary. He hopes it will also lead to more technology and jobs in the area.
“It’s sort of a double mission in delivering something really practical and delivering science,” Dr. Margalith said.
For more information about BioPACIFIC MIP visit biopacificmip.org.