Alain Graillot is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of SPECIFIC POLYMERS company and leads industrial and collaborative R&D projects.
He brings his experience in various fields: biomedical and nanomedicine, sustainable thermoset materials, polymeric materials for energy or high-performance materials and coatings.
In Europe, about 70% of thermoset composite materials are not recycled correctly, generating a very negative impact on the environment. The Bizente project is presented as a revolutionary alternative to the problem at the end of life of these composites, providing an innovative model of enzymatic degradation through biocatalysis. Ligninolytic enzymes (origin of fungi) are one of the most powerful oxidant systems in nature. Bizente’s partners propose a model based on two axes: assisted evolution, chemical and mechanical treatment of the composite material and the biodegradation process itself. We invite you to discover with Alain Graillot (PhD in polymer chemist) the interesting technologies developed within the Bizente project, and how SPECIFIC POLYMERS carries out the chemical modifications to achieve the effective degradation of the composites. Bizente’s pioneering technology will revolutionize the reuse of components in multiple sectors, such as aeronautics, electronics or the automotive industry.
SPECIFIC POLYMERS role is to modify the chemical approach of the resins. How do you do it, exactly?
Up to now, thermoset resins are conceived with an objective of performances. For each reference resins in the project (epoxy, vinylester, unsaturated polyester), various set of specifications are targeted to fulfill end-users needs in terms of processability and final properties. Within the Bizente project, we aim at achieving chemical modification of the resins composition in order to impart reversible bonds into the final materials. Depending on the chemical nature of the resin and on targeted specifications, various “Covalent Adaptable Network – CAN” approaches are under evaluation. For instance, vitrimer approaches such as transamination, transesterification or disulfide metathesis appear to be of high interest. We, thus, design and synthesize resin building blocks containing such dynamic bonds and work on their formulation to prepare new thermosets exhibiting the same thermomechanical performances while being chemically recyclable.
The enzyme design is a parallel process. How do you put them together to achieve the biodegradation?
In order to help the enzyme design, SPECIFIC POLYMERS is working in close collaboration with TU-Delft and Evoenzyme and is providing them with representative model molecules of the repetitive units that can be found in the chemical structure of the cured thermoset network. Developing enzymes on the basis of such model molecules will lead to custom designed enzymes able to biodegrade the material. In addition, since the thermoset and insoluble nature of the cured materials is an issue for the enzymatic degradation, we target to favor the biodegradation process by recovering a partial or full solubility after use thanks to a chemical pretreatment aiming at breaking the reversible bonds mentioned above.
Which sectors will be Bizente’s beneficiaries?
Construction, aeronautic and railway sectors are the three main sectors that are targeted in the project. The specifications corresponding to each application fields are wide and require resin with various chemistries. Thus, these three application fields are real showcases and highlight the extent of applied strategy possibilities. Our approach consisting in combining mechanical, chemical and enzymatic treatments is likely to be scientifically relevant for most application fields where thermosets are used and solutions to recycle them are foreseen.
Have you identified new potential business divisions for SPECIFIC POLYMERS resulting from Bizente Project?
The custom design and supply of reversible thermoset resins are clearly a growing business for the company. On one side, the Bizente project allows us to develop new dynamic building blocks that can be sold for R&D purposes, which is the core business of SPECIFIC POLYMERS. Given the common desire of proposing more sustainable and eco-responsible resins to the markets, many companies are undertaking research to solve the end-of-life issues of thermoset resins. In that sense, enlarging our portfolio of dynamic building blocks represents a real opportunity of business. In addition, we also have the ability to custom design resin formulations to meet customers or partner specifications (processability, final use). This is another business opportunity and SPECIFIC POLYMERS is already challenged by several customers to develop biobased and reversible thermoset resins for their own application.
Is society attending to a revolutionary environmental solution thanks to Bizente model?
The development of thermoset resins that are thought out, from the early beginning and in their chemical composition, to be reversible by design and thus reprocessable, recyclable or repairable is quite innovative at the industrial scale. There is no such solution on the market yet and Bizente resins will bring a real environmental breakthrough to many industrial fields.