Scaling up the Manufacturing Process of a New Rubber for Commodity and Biomedical Applications (Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research – Research Alliance PFI: AIR-RA)

This PFI:AIR Research Alliance project focuses on the translation and transfer of the Allomatrix technology, derived from the NSF Center for Tire Research (CenTiRe), an I/UCRC. The technology has the following market-valued features: the Allomatrix family of polymers uses raw materials from renewable resources, and is a potential replacement of halobutyl rubber, which is used to make the gas-barrier inner liner of car tires and pharmaceutical stoppers. It also has the potential to be used as a rubbery biomaterial that can be processed as plastic and can be recycled, with better combination of properties than silicone rubber. These features provide the following advantages: the performance of commercial halobutyl rubber without the presence of harmful halogens, and an improved cost-effective manufacturing process with a smaller carbon footprint. The Allomatrix technology is important because it uses raw materials from renewable resources, is expected to reduce the carbon footprint of current butyl and halobutyl manufacturing processes (600,000 tons/year), may lead to improved pharmaceutical stoppers and provide improved rubbery biomaterials for saving lives. If successful, this project has the potential to bring back high value-added manufacturing to the USA, creating jobs in the STEM disciplines.
The innovative ecosystem that will be created includes partners such as Honeywell, Parker Hannifin, Bridgestone/Firestone, a small biotech company (Innovia), and LG Hausys. Third party investors include the Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society by creating the International Center of Advanced Elastomers for Healthcare, and the Breast Cancer Innovation Foundation supporting the research if integrating breast reconstruction with cancer diagnosis and treatment. The potential economic impact is expected to be significant, creating new jobs in high value added manufacturing, new commercial products and students well-trained for the created jobs in the next 2-10 years Students (high-school, undergraduate and graduate) will gain entrepreneurial and technology translation experience through the transfer of the Allomatix technology into commercial products. Students will be motivated and challenged to develop novel ideas, and to defend the feasibility of their ideas in front of industrial partners.
This project addresses the following technology gap(s) as it translates from research discovery toward commercial application: to produce halogen-free rubber on a commercial scale that can compete with current halobutyl rubber; reduce the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process; produce thermoplastic biocompatible rubber with a much cheaper and simpler process. The proposed objectives in the PFI:AIR are based on the Allomatrix technology. This new family of materials is the basis for all objectives, thus the first step is to scale up the polymerization and to produce sufficient material for product development and testing. In objective II we aim to develop an optimized sulfur curing system for tire applications, and non-sulfur curing systems for biomedical and other applications. In objective III new application development will be implemented with various partners based on the favorable properties of Allomatrix family of polymers. In objective IV the potential of the reduction of the carbon footprint of the polymerization system is examined. This objective is based on the insight of the polymerization system that was acquired during the development and optimization stages of the CenTiRe project. Lastly, objective V focuses on the examination of the feasibility of the material to be used in biomedical applications, such as investigation of cytotoxicity, material stability under physiological conditions and other aspects.