A new approach in counting polymer blends

Published on 02/10/2018

In the framework of its materials activities, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) recently brought a successful end to its "Development of advanced eco-friendly high performance polymer blends" (Ecoblend) research project, conceptualising a new approach in counting polymer blends.

Why Ecoblend?

Ecoblend is a research project funded by the National Research Fund (FNR) as part of its central CORE programme, and coordinated by LIST in collaboration with Mons University (BE). Launched in September 2014, the aim of Ecoblend has been to encourage counting immiscible polymer blends. 

The polymer referred to as polyactic acid (PLA) is an organically sourced polymer taken from agricultural waste products.  It has many benefits but is extremely fragile and cannot be used in classic applications. Consequently, an approach rendering it more shock resistant is to add poly(Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) (ABS)which shock resistance capacity is an undeniable asset for PLA. However, as PLA and ABS are immiscible, their direct blend leads to a fragile material.

LIST's expertise or how to concentrate on cashew nut oil

With a view to counting these two blends, researchers from LIST took an interest in cashew nut oil and more particularly the oil extracted from husks. Once the husk of the nut is compressed, an oil is released, which includes cardanol. Pierre Verge, manager of the Ecoblend project at LIST along with his team, highlighted the fact that the cardanol favours miscibility, or blending, of the two polymers and therefore increases their compatibility. 

Cardanol is a phenolic lipid, which means that it has both the properties of an oil and a phenolic component, which is a family of components including for instance tannins or lignin. LIST researchers worked on the PLA whilst focusing on cardanol, but its compatibility was also checked with other biophenols which could be extracted from agricultural or paper industry waste products. This research led to the creation of materials whose performance has gone beyond that previously defined. For instance, PLA was made more resistant to shocks by over 70%, and the capacity of the material to stretch without breaking increased a thousand fold.

As all products are commercially available, the end of the Ecoblend project opens some interesting perspectives for the mass production of materials, namely several tens or hundreds of kilograms. 

How did the project end?

Ecoblend came to an end with the viva voce undertaken by doctoral student Alan Rigoussen at the end of June 2018 at Mons University (BE), supervised by Pierre Verge and Prof. Philippe Dubois, Mons University Professor. The project reflects successful collaboration with Mons University and has also led to the approval of three scientific publications and poster presentations at international conferences.  Ecoblend will have led to strengthened ties with Arkema, a major stakeholder in the global chemical field, and highly influential in the polymer and plastics domains. 

The results fall within the framework of material research activities in progress at LIST. They have had an impact on other projects and enabled the creation of new synergies with other research and industrial stakeholders. The results of the project are highly innovative as polymer blends have existed for 50 years and thanks to Ecoblend, a new approach in counting polymer blends has been conceptualised by LIST, all thanks to the humble cashew nut.  

> Further information on this subject can be obtained by contacting Pierre Verge directly by email.  

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Dr Pierre VERGE
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