In project BIOBEADS we propose to develop, in combination, new manufacturing routes to new products. Manufacturing will be based on a low-energy process that can be readily scaled up, or down, and the products will be biodegradable microbeads, microscapsules and microsponges, which share the performance characteristics of existing plastic microsphere products, but which will leave no lasting environmental trace. Using bio-based materials such as cellulose (from plants) and chitin (from crab or prawn shells), we will use continuous manufacturing methods to generate microspheres, hollow capsules and porous particles to replace the plastic microbeads currently in use in many applications.
Cellulose and chitin are biodegradable and also part of the diet of many marine organisms, meaning they have straightforward natural breakdown routes and will not accumulate in the environment. BIOBEADS will be produced using membrane emulsification techniques.
The project builds on our joint expertise in membrane emulsification for continuous production of tunable droplet sizes, dissolution of cellulose and chitin in green solvents and in characterization of nanoscale and microscale structures to study all aspects of particle formation from precursors, through formation processes, to degradation routes. The primary focus will be spheres and capsules, for use in cosmetics and personal care formulations, but, by understanding the processes and mechanisms of formation of these spheres, we aim to be able to tailor particle properties to suit larger scale applications from paint stripping, to fillers in biodegradable plastics.
The BIOBEADS research team will work with industrial partners, including very large manufacturers of personal care products, to ensure that the research conducted can be taken up and used, so having a real, positive impact on the manufacturing of new, more sustainable products.