Econic Technologies appoints a new CEO as it enters its next phase

Catalyst technology company, Econic Technologies, has appointed Keith Wiggins as its new CEO to lead the next stage scale up and commercialisation of the business.


The leader in CO2 utilisation technology, Econic Technologies, has today announced the appointment of Keith Wiggins as its new CEO. Wiggins will take over from Dr Rowena Sellens who will retire after eight years of leadership, having taken the company to its market-leading position from a spin-out start up. The firm is now ready to scale the commercialisation of its unique catalyst technology amongst customers looking to achieve net zero carbon and core sustainability objectives.

The key next stages in this process are to progress key partnerships alongside a forthcoming fund raise on the back of recently secured investment from existing shareholders and the UK government’s Future Fund.

Wiggins brings broad experience of successfully running advanced manufacturing businesses and commercialising technologies across global markets. His international career spans senior leadership positions with leading multinationals and early stage companies.

Keith Wiggins, CEO of Econic Technologies, commented: ‘It is an honour to be joining Econic Technologies at a time when the business is poised to scale and commercialize. Rowena and the team have developed a world class technology that brings environmental, cost and performance benefits to customers, at a time when the world is demanding sustainable solutions for CO2. I look forward to being part of the growth story ahead.’

Wiggins replaces the retiring Dr Rowena Sellens, who was appointed in 2014 and oversaw Econic Technologies’ initial funding rounds; the launch of a UK-first customer demonstration facility; and the conclusion of the firm’s first joint development agreements, including a partnership with Drax. Dr Sellens will use her retirement to explore a number of non-executive roles.

Dr Rowena Sellens, former CEO, commented: ‘Overseeing the growth of Econic Technologies has been a real labour of love. Thanks to the incredible hard work of a team that I was so proud to lead, the business has gone from strength to strength. I am very happy to be passing the reins to Keith, who brings fresh perspectives and deep experience that will help the catalyst complete the final stages of commercialisation. I wish him well, and look forward to watching the firm’s continued growth.’


For more information contact:

Mr Leigh S Taylor, Head of Sales & Licensing
+44 (0)1625 238 645 | l.taylor@econic-technologies.com


Get in touch to find out how we can help turn waste CO2 into added value for your business.

Author, Econic

Econic Technologies awarded Innovate UK grant

Econic Technologies awarded Innovate UK grant to support further development of its’ pioneering technology to help fight climate change.

Econic Technologies has been awarded an Innovate UK grant under the Sustainable Innovation Fund framework to support further development of its’ pioneering technology to help fight climate change by facilitating the use of waste CO2 as a raw material, replacing expensive oil-based feedstocks, in polymer manufacture.  The grant, which supports a nine-month programme of innovation, was secured by the Econic team to allow greater resource focus on the process of recycling Econic’s innovative catalyst and will contribute to Econic’s R&D expenditure.

Dave Walker, Head of Process Development, Econic Technologies, commented:

“This is fantastic news for Econic.  This grant will allow us to support and accelerate our development, bringing enhanced performance to our already world leading technology package”.  


For more information contact:

Mr Leigh S Taylor, Head of Sales & Licensing at Econic Technologies
+44 (0)1625 238 645 | l.taylor@econic-technologies.com


Get in touch to find out how we can help turn waste CO2 into added value for your business.

Author, Econic

Econic Founder Awarded OBE in 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours

Econic Founder and CSO, Prof. Charlotte Williams

Econic Technologies is delighted to announce that that founder and inventor, Professor Charlotte Williams, has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list 2020

Professor Williams, currently Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford, has received her OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to Chemistry.

Rowena Sellens, CEO, Econic Technologies, commented:
Charlotte’s passion for chemistry has continued to drive both her thriving academic career and contribution to Econic Technologies. We are delighted to work closely with Charlotte within Econic while she continues to deliver world leading research in a busy academic role.  Without doubt everyone is proud of such deserved recognition of her achievements.”


For more information, contact:
Mr Leigh S Taylor, Head of Sales & Licensing at Econic Technologies
+44 (0)1625 238 645 | l.taylor@econic-technologies.com


Get in touch to find out how we can help turn waste CO2 into added value for your business.

Author, Econic

CO2nversations – Michael Kember

As Econic grows significantly and moves towards commercialisation, so too do our scientific innovations. These technological developments form part of the foundation, and the future, of our company, so it’s important that we protect them, in the same way that you would your house or car. This is where Dr Michael Kember, our Head of Research and Intellectual Property, and also a co-founder of Econic, steps in.

Mike determines the direction that our research team take in the development of new generations of catalysts and CO2-containing polymeric products, not only in terms of the fundamental scientific developments, but also in their protection as Econic’s intellectual property. This task requires Mike and the team to have a forensic understanding of the current IP landscape to see where and how Econic fits in, and the directions  future technology innovations can take. “It is important that we protect our catalyst technologies at all stages of development.” Mike states, “This protection is crucial in establishing the place of our unique catalyst systems’ foothold in the market. It also allows our customers the freedom to use these technologies in their own business processes, opening up the advantages of CO2-based polyols and materials.”

Econic’s IP portfolio is an ever-evolving, growing collection, currently consisting of more than 30 granted patents that span from polymerisation catalysts and the processes used in our technology, to enhanced polyurethane products made using CO2-containing polyols. This portfolio will only continue to diversify as we develop new generations of our catalyst technologies for use in the polyols for the polyurethane market, and, looking ahead, to wider plastics markets. The potential is far-reaching and we are only just scratching the surface.


Get in touch to find out how we can help turn waste CO2 into added value for your business.

Author, Anthea Blackburn

CO2nversations – Tom Lynch

Industrial placements are invaluable – to both undergraduate students and companies. Students are offered the chance to use their theoretical knowledge in real world technical applications, as well as gain transferable skills in working in industry and, of course, being exposed to a plethora of new scientific concepts and skills. For companies, in particular SMEs like Econic, we have the opportunity to work with motivated students from a range of backgrounds who bring new skills and creative ideas to a growing technical team.

One of our current industrial placement students is Tom Lynch, who is spending the fourth year of his Chemical Engineering degree at Loughborough University as a member of our Process Development team. Guided by our process development experts, Tom has played an instrumental role in the development of our downstream polyol processing and the transfer of these processes from the lab to pilot scale, as well as the generation of valuable data to help our customers efficiently scale their use of our technologies. Tom has found working in Econic’s continually developing environment to be most rewarding: “The smaller team size means that I’ve had the opportunities for more responsibilities and opportunities than those of my classmates who work at much larger companies, especially since I have been able to work on projects in both the lab and at the Customer Demonstration Facility.”

As we move closer to the commercialisation of our catalyst technologies, the downstream process development and transfer of our systems from the lab to plant scales are a vital step in helping our customers to realise the full potential of incorporating waste CO2 into their polyol and downstream plastics applications.


Get in touch to find out how we can help turn waste CO2 into added value for your business.

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Turning ‘bad’ plastics into a global opportunity

A blanket ban on all kinds of plastics is unfeasible and unworkable.

One need only look out their window to see first-hand evidence of the plastics pollution we currently face. It was reported in 2017 (Geyer, Sci. Adv.) that since 1950 around 6300 million metric tonnes of plastic waste have been created. Of this enormous amount of waste, a mere 9% has been recycled and 12% incinerated, with the remaining 79% ending up in landfills or oceans. Despite numerous advantages, many related to energy and resource efficiency, the detrimental effects of “single use” plastics are indisputable, and clearly things need to change with regards to consumer demand and use of these disposable materials.

Chemically speaking and as defined by IUPAC, a plastic is a “polymeric material that may contain other substances to improve performance or reduce costs”. We therefore question the broad classification of single use plastics being ‘bad’ and instead suggest that the issue we face is the bad use of plastics. Even those plastics deemed ‘bad’, like polypropylene and polyethylene, are ideal for the purposes, like disposable bottles, supermarket bags, and plastic packaging, with which they are now associated – it is their impact post use that causes controversy. These plastics, and many others, also have uses inherent to our daily lives with lifetimes of twenty or more years that we cannot discount. Polypropylene is used in thermal undergarments, as well as in reusable plastic containers. Polyethylene makes up many industrial machine components and artificial joints. These subsets of applications offer significant positive impact that more than offsets their current ‘bad’ reputation.


Overcoming the ‘bad use’ of plastics

The necessary shift in our approach to overcoming our bad use of plastics is the responsibility of all those in the plastics chain – the industry, the users, and the government. Luckily this change in mindset is already underway. Users are becoming more conscientious in their use of multiple-use alternatives to common plastic products and the ways in which they recycle waste. Increasing numbers of multinational companies, including Ikea, Coca Cola and McDonalds, have committed to ensuring that their plastics are both recyclable or compostable, and incorporate increasing proportions of recycled plastic. Several government bodies are introducing levies or bans on some of the most problematic plastic items, like bags, straws and microbeads, as well as funding of research towards recyclable alternatives. There is also significant work in many areas of the plastics industry itself to make plastics in more environmentally conscientious ways – whether in the precursors used, many of which are typically petrochemical in origin, in the efficiency of manufacture, or in their ability to be more easily recycled.


Polyurethane – A case study

Flexible foams add comfort to our lives in the form of memory foam mattresses.

Polyurethane (PU) is present in our daily lives in more ways than one might expect. This plastic, the third most widely used behind polyolefins and PVC, accounts for approximately 10% of all plastics produced, and is forecast to generate close to $80 billion worldwide by 2021, or 20 million tonnes annually (Ceskaa, 2017). Rigid foams make up the insulation in our walls, which facilitate a decrease in heat loss of ~60% when compared to other insulative materials (Kingspan, 2018). Flexible foams add comfort to our lives in the form of memory foam mattresses. Coatings protect our clothing, wooden floors and vehicles to extend their useful life. Adhesives stop our shoes from falling apart. Elastomers make up the wheels that allow us to open drawers and ride rollercoasters. Simply put, the stability and durability of PU in any one of its forms is essential in protecting us and our essential items from wear and tear and the elements.

 


Alternatives to PU

The production of PU is an energy and petrochemically intensive process – replacing this material with alternative biodegradable/natural/energetically less demanding materials is a natural initial response. Certainly, one could envisage replacing PU insulation (160 kg CO2 emitted / kgCO2e), with a less carbon intensive material like cork (-155 kgCO2e), glass fibre (8 kgCO2e), or mineral wool (38 kgCO2e) (superhomes.org.uk). In these examples, however, more than twice the material is required to prevent the same amount of heat loss as PU, so the performance of these long lifetime materials with regards to their stability, flexibility, lifetime, handling and fitness for purpose must also be evaluated. When considering natural alternatives to PU, we also mustn’t forget to factor in the environmental and societal effects of these materials, like import costs, land and water intensive agricultural demand that competes with food crops, the need for fertilisers and pesticides, or the waste profile associated with such materials. When considering each of these points, the greening of PU production becomes a superior approach to offsetting its overall carbon and environmental footprint.

The historical production of PU and its precursors was heavily dependent on volatile organic compounds and petrochemical-based feedstocks, both of which are being addressed by new and existing companies worldwide. One of the biggest contributors to the use of petrochemical-based feedstocks in PU manufacture is the polyols inherent to its chemical structure. These polymers are most commonly polyether in nature and are prepared from the catalysed polymerisation of ethylene or propylene oxide. These epoxides are industrially synthesised from the carbon intensive oxidation or hydrochlorination of the corresponding alkene, which is collected as a by-product of oil refinement and which has an enormous carbon footprint. The potential replacement of some or all of this epoxide feedstock is clearly an effective approach to greening polyol production.


Plant-based polyols

Increasing numbers of natural polyols based on plant oils or compounds are being developed industrially. Oil-based polyols can be prepared from a range of natural oils, such as castor, cashew, peanut or soy, with castor oil being one of the few natural products that does not require chemical modification. Alternatively, bio-based succinic acid polyols can be prepared from the fermentation of sugar. These polyols, in particular bio-based polyols, do offer advantages to downstream PU products over their wholly petrochemical-based counterparts in terms of increased abrasion resistance, tensile strength, thermal properties and hardness. As in the case of natural alternatives to PU however, these polyols also run into agricultural shortcomings, especially in competing with food crops for land use, as well as dependence on variable and uncontrollable factors like weather and seasons. As such, when processing and purifying the polyols, it can be difficult to produce constant quantities for downstream use. Furthermore, natural oil-based polyols require additional processing to remove odour, and typically must be blended with traditional petrochemical-based polyols to achieve comparable properties.


Using CO2 as a feedstock

An abundance of atmospheric CO2 presents another environmental issue that we currently face. It would therefore offer a win-win situation if petrochemical-based polyol feedstocks could utilise an otherwise waste material – for every tonne of epoxide replaced by CO2, three tonnes of CO2 would be avoided or utilised (Bardow, Green Chem.). Assuming 50% market adoption of such technologies, these numbers correspond to savings of ten million tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent to taking six million cars off the road or planting twelve million trees, that is, significant savings. Such polyols, known as polyethercarbonates, are the focus of a small, but increasing, number of companies. These new technologies differ in the amounts of CO2 that can be incorporated into polyols, but with a theoretical maximum of 50 mol%, significant environmental advantages are clearly possible. We at Econic have taken this approach one step further: our catalyst technologies allow for the bespoke incorporation of CO2 into polyols at industrially relevant temperatures and pressures, thereby allowing polyol producers to tailor their products for their downstream PU needs. What’s more is that the incorporation of CO2 also offers significant product advantages – the resultant rigid foams have improved flame retardance, whilst coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers show increases in their chemical, temperature and hydrolytic resistances. Economically, waste CO2 is expected to be at least an order of magnitude cheaper than its petrochemical-based counterparts. Irrefutable advantages are achievable in all aspects of the production of these green polyols, benefits which are in turn passed through to the PU industry and their consumers.


Moving towards responsible plastics

Existing materials need to be made ‘greener’.

Frankly speaking, we cannot, and should not, remove plastics from our lives. The positive energy and application impacts that they impart simply cannot be reproduced by natural alternatives. Manufacturers and users alike can have a huge influence on reducing the ‘bad’ impact of plastics and shifting the balance towards ‘good’. We must urgently address how efficiently we use each plastic and move away from a ‘use and dispose’ mentality. Furthermore, plastics should be manufactured so as to not further perturb the state of our environment, but also to utilise the abundance of harmful waste products we have already created. As in the case of increasingly green PU, green and recyclable alternatives to many of the other plastics we rely on are being developed worldwide. The issue we now face is the wait for these new technologies to be adopted on a large scale by the industry, so that the plastics products so essential to our lives move towards being responsible materials.


To learn more about the endless potential that Econic’s catalyst technology can bring to greener plastics and waste CO2, please contact:
Richard French, Business Development Director on +44 1625 238 645


This blog was first posted by Plastic News Europe on 17/09/2018.

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Econic Technologies raises £7m for pioneering technology to help fight climate change

British catalyst technology company, Econic Technologies, announces the successful completion of its latest round of fundraising. The total amount raised is £7m with first-time investment from OGCI Climate Investments, alongside additional funds from existing shareholders: IP Group plc and Woodford Investment Management. The funding will be used to help further develop Econic’s pioneering catalyst technologies, which unlock the positive potential of waste CO2 by allowing it to be incorporated as a feedstock thereby enhancing margins and reducing the reliance on fossil fuels. The team hopes that by 2027, 30% of all polyol production will take place using Econic’s catalyst technologies, meaning that potentially 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved each year – the equivalent to taking some two million cars off the road.

In addition to the funds from Econic’s existing shareholders, this latest investment round brings backing from OGCI Climate Investments, the one billion-dollar investment fund created by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), a voluntary initiative led by CEOs of ten global oil and gas companies. The OGCI Climate Investments fund invests in promising technologies and business models that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that are commercially viable and scalable. Working with OGCI Climate Investments means that Econic Technologies will have access to an impressive network of oil and gas experts, opening the door to future opportunities for the global market to benefit from the positive potential of its catalyst technologies.

Due to the interest expressed by a number of strategic investors, the company has the facility to issue a number of additional shares within a limited time window following this close.

Rowena Sellens, CEO of Econic Technologies, commented: “This latest round of funding will help drive Econic Technologies’ continuing growth, and enable us to transform more waste CO2 into powerful economic and product performance advantages while reducing environmental impact.

“As the catalysts move from our labs to our customer’s factory floor, the funding will be vital to ensure that manufacturers around the world are able to benefit from our pioneering technologies. We are delighted that our investors are prepared to give us the flexibility to bring one or two strategic investors on board and benefit from the additional expertise they can offer at this exciting stage.”

Kelsey Lynn Skinner at IP Group Plc commented: “Econic continues to make strong progress with its transformational catalyst technologies and we are pleased to continue to play a pivotal role in helping the company to realise this potential.”

Pratima Rangarajan, CEO of OGCI Climate Investments commented: “We believe that CO2 utilisation in products is an important pathway to capture carbon, resulting in a more sustainable future. Econic Technologies’ catalyst is a step in the right direction and we look forward to supporting them as they grow.”


For further information, please contact:
Alex Kane, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 | alex@farrerkane.com
Max Jewell, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 | maxjewell@farrerkane.com

For more information on Econic or to inquire about our catalyst technologies, please contact:
Richard French, Business Development Director Econic Technologies | +44 1625 238 645

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Polyurethane: The Bright, Green Future

2017 was a momentous year for science and technology. It marked the 25th anniversary of the first SMS sent; the 75th anniversary of the first nuclear chain reactor; and 150 years since dynamite was patented. Tucked away amongst these milestones, but of no less importance, was the 80th anniversary of the discovery of polyurethane.

It is unlikely that Otto Bayer and his team appreciated the future significance of their discovery when they landed upon the polycondensation reaction inherent to polyurethane preparation whilst investigating synthetic and cheaper alternatives to rubber. It is equally possible that the potential of this new product was still not fully appreciated when, in 1948, DuPont manufactured the first commercially available rigid foam for insulation. Nonetheless, the development of polyurethane has had far-reaching and long-standing influence as it moved out of the lab and became, perhaps unbeknownst to most, a consumer staple.

By the end of World War II, for example, polyurethane was already being manufactured on a large scale for use as protective coatings. Rapid developments in the field enabled significant advancements in the applications possible for polyurethanes, which are now being developed by a number of companies worldwide – by 2019, it is expected that total revenues will reach USD$54.2 billion. Over time, we have seen the incorporation of polyurethane into all manner of applications – from beer barrel insulation, shoe soles, spandex, and spacesuit lining, to surfboards, footballs, FDA-approved artificial hearts and (for a limited time only) swimsuits.

Polyurethane has clearly gone from strength to strength over the past 80 years, but what does the future hold? Simply put, the future is bright – the future is green.


A green alternative

The climate change challenge – and the attendant social and political pressures – have resulted in a concerted push by manufacturers to cut emissions and reduce the environmental footprint of the heavily petrochemical and volatile organic compound-based materials used to make polyurethane. Ultimately, this is a change that also offers significant economic benefit upon replacing expensive feedstocks with a cheaper, natural alternative. In the last ten years, the industry has seen the introduction of sustainable polyols prepared using a variety of plant- and bio-based materials. While a step in the right direction, these feedstocks are inherently dependent on season and weather, so we must also consider the regulatory and ethical concerns of taking agricultural effort away from food sources, which may present a barrier to entry of these technologies in developing countries. A feedstock that is a waste product of other industrial processes would thus offer a holy grail to polyol synthesis. One such chemical springs immediately to mind: carbon dioxide.

Consequently, scientists and polyurethane manufacturers across the globe are exploring ways in which to utilise CO2, one significant development of which is catalysts that facilitate its incorporation into polyols. This new technology not only replaces a significant amount of oil-based feedstocks with CO2, but also prevents further carbon emissions – saving money and the planet. What’s more, advantages of CO2-containing polyurethane can be seen through improvements in the flame retardance of rigid foams, and increases in the chemical, temperature and hydrolytic resistance of coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers.


From waste to staple

These catalyst technologies have the potential to transform CO2 from a harmful waste product into a valuable staple of the polyurethane industry. At Econic Technologies, we have taken this one step further: our pioneering tunable catalyst enables our customers to select the amount of CO2 incorporated into, and thereby the properties of, their resultant polyols. Furthermore, these polymerisation reactions can occur at much lower pressures than other similar systems, so our customers can retrofit the technology to their existing assets with an estimated pay back within only two years.

Capable of saving 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year (assuming 50 per cent market adoption) – the equivalent to taking six million cars off the road – our catalyst technology is part of the revolution that is adding significant value to the carbon recycling economy, and fundamentally reshaping modern plastics manufacturing. As we celebrate polyurethane’s 80th birthday, we confidently look forward to a bright, green future.


To learn more about the endless potential that Econic’s catalyst technology can bring to waste CO2, check out how Econic can make this possible, or contact us for more information.


This blog was first posted by British Plastics & Rubber on 05/02/2018.

Photo of Otto Bayer courtesy of Bayer.

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Econic Technologies is Named in the 2017 Global Cleantech 100 Ones to Watch List

Alderley Park, Cheshire, UK – November 7, 2017: Econic Technologies, a chemical company that supplies pioneering catalyst systems capable of incorporating bespoke amounts of waste carbon dioxide into polymers for use in the plastics industry, today announced it was named in the 2017 Global Cleantech 100 Ones to Watch list, produced by Cleantech Group (CTG).

The GCT100 Ones to Watch list seeks to highlight a group of up-and-coming companies that are catching the eye of leading investors and corporates in the market. The companies listed made the top 250 in this year’s Global Cleantech 100 program and carry pockets of strong support among the GCT100’s Expert Panel, albeit they did not have quite enough market support (yet!) to make the 9th edition of the Global Cleantech 100 list itself (which will be published on January 22, 2018). As such, these companies represent this year’s Ones to Watch.

“The Global Cleantech 100 program is our annual in-depth research exercise to identify the innovation companies leading players in the market are most excited by right now,” said CTG’s CEO, Richard Youngman. “By the nature of the list, the Ones to Watch truly represent the next cadre of exciting disruptive companies.”

“We are delighted with this recognition of the potential of our catalyst systems to benefit not only the environment with regards to the utilisation and reduction of waste carbon dioxide, but also the economy in terms of the value we can add to our customers’, and their customers’, existing products,” said Rowena Sellens, Econic’s CEO.

This year, a record number of nominations for the annual Global Cleantech 100 list were received: 12,300 distinct companies from 61 countries. These companies were weighted and scored to create a short list of 312 companies, with these nominees reviewed by the 86 members of Cleantech Group’s Expert Panel. The Ones to Watch list, a sister list to the annual Global Cleantech 100 list, is created from the top 250 of the shortlist. To qualify for either list, companies must be independent, for-profit cleantech companies that are not listed on any major stock exchange.

The complete list of the Global Cleantech 100 Ones to Watch list was revealed on November 7, 2017. See the full list at https://i3connect.com/gct100/watch-list

The complete list of Global Cleantech expert panel members is available at https://i3connect.com/gct100/panelist

About Cleantech Group
Founded in 2002, the mission of Cleantech Group (CTG) is to accelerate sustainable innovation. Our subscriptions, events and programs are all designed to help corporates, investors, and all players in the innovation ecosystem discover and connect with the key companies, trends, and people in the market. Our coverage is global, spans the entire clean technology theme and is relevant to the future of all industries. The company is headquartered in San Francisco, with a growing international presence in London.
Our parent company, Enovation Partners, one of Consulting Magazine‘s 2017 Seven Small Jewels, is based in Chicago (learn more at www.enovationpartners.com).

MEDIA CONTACT:
Heather Matheson
Cleantech Group
Tel: +1 (415) 233-9714
Email: heather.matheson@cleantech.com

ECONIC CONTACT:
Richard French, Business Development Director
Tel: +44 (0) 1625 238645
Email: R.French@econic-technologies.com

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Enhancing Healthcare using Polyurethane

Just as we can find polyurethane in our everyday lives, so too can we find it throughout many of the medical procedures we probably don’t care to think too much about. Many of these applications in the medical realm are a result of the attractive properties of polyurethane, which can be attributed to the chemical structure of this polymer.

In the synthesis of polyurethane, a flexible polyol that makes up the polyurethane backbone, reacts with an isocyanate to generate the cross-linked polymer and the ‘soft’ segment of the material, as well as a low molecular weight hydroxyl- or amine-based chain extender that also reacts with the isocyanate to form, due to the additional presence of intramolecular hydrogen-bonding interactions, the ‘hard’ segment of the resultant polyurethane. The generation of this block co-polymer, whereby the soft and hard segments alternate, leads to a unique material that is elastomeric, as well as tough and tear resistant in nature.

These properties of polyurethane lead to its advantages in medical devices over other types of polymers, such as polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene, as the material is able to withstand continual bending and rubbing during its use, without becoming weakened or breaking.

Read on to learn more about some of the medical applications and recent advancements that rely on the benefits of polyurethane.


Biomedical Polyurethane

If we consider the use of polyurethane in medical applications, one of the first things that surely comes to mind is its compatibility with the body. Luckily, much work has been carried out in the fields of chemistry, engineering, and medicine to ensure that the materials used today have sufficient structural, chemical, and mechanical integrities, so we can rest assured that implants will maintain their shapes and desired functions, and will not be degraded by biological attack while in the body.

Historically, polyurethane can be commonly found in a range of medical tubings, for example in catheters and feeding tubes, as well as in surgical gloves and other medical garments, and in bedding. More recently, however, a more diverse range of applications are being realised.

One such application is a polyurethane-based heart valve reported by South African scientists, which offers the advantage, through 3D printing of a titanium frame and dip moulding to introduce the polyurethane valve, of being constructed specifically for each patient. This particular valve offers an exciting alternative treatment to the traditionally utilised biological valve, which degenerates fairly quickly in younger patients, or mechanical valve, which requires life-long anti-coagulation therapy – this development is thus ideal for younger patients in developing countries, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, where rheumatic heart disease is unfortunately prevalent. Animal and further mechanical testing of the valve is currently underway, so keep an eye out for future progress in this field!

Image courtesy of Central University of Technology, Free State

Thermoplastic Polyurethane

Patient comfort is an integral part of healthcare and treatment, and one particular polyurethane, thermoplastic polyurethane, offers a significant advantage over other plastics due to its ability to respond to heat due to the presence of transient cross-links between hard segments in the copolymer. The subsequent flexibility of the polyurethane imparted by this property allows for the material to act more as a rubber than a plastic, and adapt to movement in the patient’s body, which makes it much less cumbersome and annoying for the patient.

As such, these thermoplastic polyurethanes have a range of applications in a variety of tubings, oxygen masks, and wound dressings, as well as in a range of intravenous and intra-aortic balloon catheters, all of which are subject to much motion, and which patients appreciate for their flexibility.


Polyurethane Foam

When we think of polyurethane foams, their incorporation into medical devices may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Their rigid structure as a result of extensive cross-linking between the hard and soft segments of the co-polymer, is a bonus when support and inflexibility are required, however.

One such example of a rigid support comes in the form of a suture alternative, known as the Zip, which uses an adjustable ladder-type structure to close evenly an incision in places of stitches or staples. The polyurethane the Zip is made of facilitates the dynamic nature and conformability of the device, so the precision is also protected from the forces of patient movement, which aids in healing and recovery, and, perhaps most importantly for patients, also minimises scarring and track marks left by more traditional methods, so also offers cosmetic benefits.

Video courtesy of ZipLine Medical

For those who have suffered the ill-fate of broken bones and wearing a cast, the hassles of showering, the perpetual and unreachable itch, and the general discomfort can be appreciated. Luckily for any of our future breaks, a new company, Cast21, hailing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed a means of addressing these issues. The cast, while still maintaining the rigidity required to repair a broken bone, is also hollow (so no itching!) and waterproof (showerproof!). To achieve this remarkable feat, the cast is based around a flexible network of silicon tubes into which the two components of polyurethane are injected, react, harden, and form a rigid foam exoskeleton that distributes force evenly across the limb in need of repair. Simple!

Image courtesy of Cast21

Imagine if all of this was possible, whilst also enabling the capture and storage of pesky waste CO2… check out how Econic can make this possible, or contact us for more information.

Author, econicuser