Originally Published 26 February 2002
Research chemists at the University of Warwick have devised and patented a new process called Living and Controlled Radical Polymerisation which can cheaply and easily grow designer polymers (plastics). They have already used the process to produce a wide range of designer polymer designs that are now being tested by major companies for use in applications as diverse as hairspray, anti-obesity drugs and inkjet printer ink.
Previously "designer-polymers" could only be synthesised by resorting to expensive sub-zero temperatures and extremely pure solvents and other chemicals. The designer polymer method devised by the University of Warwick research team under Professor David Haddleton uses a combination of a copper catalyst and a particular type of ligand giving the following benefits:
- Production of complex polymers to specific designs under precise control, unlike conventional polymerisation techniques currently employed in most laboratories
- The chemistry used is inert to many types of other chemical action, so it can be used for items that will see use in a wide variety of environments
- No need for expensive sub-zero temperatures works from room temperature to plus 1500C
- Does not require expensive extremely pure solvents and other very pure chemicals
The research team has just been granted a patent on the process in Europe and the US and Professor Haddleton has now formed a spin out company called "Warwick Effect Polymers Ltd" (WEP) which has already begun to produce to order designer polymers for high-value applications such as inkjet printer ink, hairspray and shampoo, adhesives, pharmaceuticals, biomaterials and medical devices for companies such as, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, BP Avecia, and GelTex Inc. WEP is now seeking partners to exploit the technology in licensing and joint venture agreements.
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Note for Editors: For non science press a ligand is a an ion, a molecule, or a molecular group that binds to another chemical entity to form a larger complex.