Bio-Based Polymers

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Bio-Based Polymers

by Stanislaw Penczek

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The 1st IUPAC International Conference on Bio-based Polymers (ICBP 2003) took place from 12–14 November 2003 at the Suzuki Umetaro Hall at the RIKEN Institute in Saitama (actually, within the Tokyo area). The conference was attended by 226 participants, with about two-thirds from Japan and one-third from 24 different other countries. The scientific program featured 47 main lectures and 90 posters. The conference was chaired by Prof. Yoshiharu Doi, director of the Polymer Institute, and Prof. Tadahisa Iwata, both from The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN Institute). It was sponsored by Japan Science and Technology Agency and the Biodegradable Plastics Society.

The conference was organized around the following major themes:

  • bio-based polymers synthesis
  • biodegradable polymers
  • commercial products of bio-based polymers
  • microbial poly(hydroxyalkanoates)
  • poly(amino acid)s
  • polyesters, composites, and monomer synthesis

The following lecture titles provide a sense of how these themes were addressed during the conference:

1. “Unspecific Polymerases for Biosynthesis of Novel Biopolymers,” A. Steinbüchel (University of Münster, Germany)

2. “Structure Analysis of P(3HB) Films and Fibers by Synchrotron Radiation,” T. Iwata (RIKEN Institute, Japan)

3. “Mater-Bi products: Present Status and Future Perspectives,” C. Bastioli (Novamont, Italy)

4. “Fibrous Protein Assembly and Cellular Interactions,” D.L. Kaplan (Tufts University, USA)

5. “Fermentation Production of Chemicals that Can be Used for the Polymer Synthesis,” S. Y. Lee (KAIST, Korea)

6. “Lactic Acid-Based Polymers via Copolymerization and Chemical Modification,” M. Vert (University of Montpellier, France)

7. “A Comparative Overview of LCA Studies for Bio-Based Polymers,” M. Patel (Utrecht University, Netherlands)

8. “Industrial Biodegradable Plastics as Bio-Based Materials in Japan,” K. Ohshima (BPS, Japan)

Numerous and vivid discussions after the lectures and during the intermissions clearly indicated the importance of this field and its future trends. It is thought that in the not-too-distant future, bio-based polymers will be an important alternative to petroleum-based polymers. Several new achievements were very well documented, indicating that particularly polyesters based on the microbial poly(hydroxyalkanoates) and polymers of lactic acid are quickly becoming more common as industrial polymers. The expected commercial impact of bio-based polymers is also related to the biodegradability of macromolecules derived from natural products.

The meeting also encompassed a large number of high-level research papers, describing synthetic and mechanical features of biosynthesis of poly(hydroxyalkanoates) (A. Steinbüchel, Germany; T. Iwata, Japan), novel lactic acid polymers and copolymers (M. Vert, France), to cite just a few of the over 20 in this particular area of research. Biomedical application and biological functions of some polypeptides and proteins were discussed by L. Kaplan (USA). The bio-based polymers are the most natural candidates for medical applications, since the studies till now have shown their perfect biocompatibility.

The meeting was held in the RIKEN institute, which is surrounded by a beautiful landscape. Accompanying persons enjoyed seeing the sights of Tokyo, including the Kabuki theatre, one of the most impressive in the world.

Highlights from the conference have been published recently as a special issue of Macromolecular Bioscience (Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 133–367, March 2004)

Page last modified 18 July 2004.

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