Enzymatic Polymerization Routes to Synthetic-Natural Materials
Sustainability is becoming a key driver for product differentiation, and corporations around the world are setting specific sustainability metrics on new products. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), land and water use, renewable feedstocks and product end-of-life are thus becoming the metrics to assess products environmental and societal impact. Within this framework, current commercial polymeric materials are showing their limitations and warranting the need for novel material development. A new emphasis on natural materials with the design flexibility of synthetic material is emerging to address these needs. Polysaccharides are a class of natural polymers that need a renewed focus given their large design space and rich functionality combined with intrinsic sustainability. Yet, being mostly extracted from natural feedstock, current industrial polysaccharide such as cellulose and starch lack the purity and molecular design precision found in synthetic polymers. Enzymatic polymerization of polysaccharides is one technology that can addressed some of the current limitations by using synthetic polymerization approaches. This technology enables both the synthesis of known polysaccharides with a higher purity and polymer structure precision as well as the synthesis of hard to extract polysaccharides such as apha 1,3 glucans. Moreover, the bottom-up assembly of insoluble polysaccharide polymers from soluble monomers allows the design of novel and rich colloidal features which, in turn, enable many industrial applications. Thus, enzymatic polymerization offers the potential to meet the purity and control offered by synthetic polymeric materials while meeting, by design, the ever more stringent end-of-life requirements.
Natnael received his PhD in Chemical Engineer at Rice University in 2012. His work encompassed carbon-based high-performance materials, their complex fluids and nano-scale materials behavior. Since 2012, he works at DuPont working in a diverse set of technology areas, from colloidal science applied in food and cosmetics to textile fibers and biodegradable packaging. He is currently a technology manger at IFF Health and Bioscience division leading new biomaterial development effort in the enzymatic polymerized polysaccharides space. His current work focuses on the pressing sustainability needs and their societal impact - a generation-defining challenge - with a holistic approach, that goes beyond the mere technology solutions.