Title: Breaking FROntiers for advanced engineering of bespoke, functional Biopolymer COmposite materials (FROBCO)
Project Category: Fellowship
Funded Value: £1,288,646
Funded Period: Jan 2021 - Dec 2025
Project Reference: EP/V002236/1
Principal Investigator: David Fengwei Xie
This fellowship programme will take a circular economy (CE) approach and unlock the huge potential of renewable biomass, which can be easily sourced from agriculture/aquaculture/food industry as byproducts or wastes. The biomass contains biopolymers cellulose, chitin/chitosan, starch, protein, alginate and lignin, which are valuable resources for making environmentally friendly materials. Moreover, these biopolymers have unique properties and functions, which make them highly potential in important, rapidly growing applications such as therapeutic agent delivery, tissue engineering scaffolds, biological devices, green electronics, sensing, dye and heavy metal removal, oil/water separation, and optics. However, enormous challenges exist to process biopolymers and achieve desired properties/functions cost-effectively; these valuable biomass resources have long been underutilised. This proposed ambitious and adventurous research will focus on the smart design of materials formulation and engineering process from an interdisciplinary perspective to realise the assembly of biopolymer composite materials under a single flow process. This will eventually lead to a reinvented, cost-effective engineering technology based on 3D printing to produce a diverse range of robust, biopolymer composite materials with tailored structure, properties and functionality. Due to the versatile chemistry of biopolymers for modification, the bespoke 'green' materials are expected to outperform many synthetic polymers and composites for specific applications such as tissue engineering and controlled release. The outcomes of this transformative project will not only provide fundamental knowledge leading to a completely new line of research, but also deliver ground-breaking technologies that will impact the UK's plastic industry by providing truly sustainable and high-performance options for high-end technological areas (e.g. healthcare and agriculture).