Venture Cup is a competition that aims to stimulate new business ideas. In the Environment & Energy class, research company Cyclicor took home first prize in the regional finals in southern Sweden in 2013. The company’s mission is to develop environmentally friendly polycarbonate and polyurethane resins. Cyclicor was founded by Lund researchers Kristofer Cook and Sang-Hyun Pyo.
“Along with a number of researchers in chemistry and biotechnology, we have developed methods that make it possible to manufacture polycarbonate plastic without Bisphenol-A polyurethane plastic without the use of phosgene and isocyanates,” says Cook. “We are talking about chemical substances that are toxic to humans and the environment, but where, through green chemistry we can produce polymers with the same characteristics as the traditional products. It is simply about the chemical synthesis of new chemicals that lead to the final product. We see a huge market potential of the new methods for the production of plastics.”
Polycarbonates without Bisphenol A
Polycarbonate plastic has many uses and is usually translucent and “unbreakable.” It is used for covering food but also in medical equipment, aircraft windows and safety helmets – applications where safety, hygiene and mechanical durability have a special significance. Global demand for polycarbonate is greater than 4 million tonnes per year, representing a market value of around 7 billion U.S. dollars. Demand will increase and could reach 6 million tonnes per year in 2020.
The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is used as a raw material in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and in the finished product. Bisphenol A is the world’s most common plastic chemical and is used in addition to polycarbonate plastic also in epoxy resin. The substance may cause irritations and allergies, affects internal organs and is classified as a reproductive toxicant. Risks to people with bisphenol A has been discussed in connection with the use of polycarbonate plastic for example, baby bottles, water bottles, food containers and storage containers used for heating food in microwave ovens.
“Surveys have shown that over 90 percent of the population in many countries have detectable amounts of bisphenols in their urine. The plastic industry is obviously aware of the risks and has also tried to replace BPA with other bisphenols. So far it has not been particularly successful in reducing the risks,” said Cook .
“Our manufacturing method is free from bisphenol A and we are almost there with the first commercial polycarbonate product called CYCLI – Clear™ . The plastic has the same technical characteristics as the traditional products and we envision large-scale use in packaging that has direct contact with foods, such as plastic bottles. It should be on the market within a year, “said Cook.
Polyurethane without phosgene and isocyanates
Polyurethane plastic is used in thousands of products worldwide. Isolation, mattress pads, paint and wheels are just a few examples of applications where polyurethane is used. In the manufacture of isocyanates – which is one of the building blocks of polyurethane plastic – the highly toxic gas phosgene is used. Isocyanates in themselves are also harmful to humans including the effects on lung function and hypersensitivity.
“Both in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastics and polyurethane can utilize chemical synthesis methods that completely leave phosgene, isocyanates and Bisphenol A in the darkness of history. The syntheses are based on a ring-opening polymerization of cyclic carbonates and here you have an explanation for why our company is called Cyclicor, “adds Cook.
“I will not go into the details of the chemical processes, but can only conclude that it is now possible to produce plastic the building blocks in a way that is clearly better for both human health and the environment than the methods now used worldwide. In connection with the fact that Cyclicor won the Venture Cup, there was talk about a revolution in the plastics industry. We’re not there yet, and I envision an interesting period where we develop the business idea and network with important contacts,” concludes Cook .
The article was published in December 2013