PSI News is the monthly newsletter of Polymer Solutions Incorporated. Please let us know how we're doing. If you have any questions, suggestions or feedback, please feel free to email us at newsletter@polymersolutions.com.

In this issue:

=> How Plastics Fight Climate Change
=> Should a Patent Drawing Mistake Collapse Cancer Research? You Decide!
=> Highlights From the PSI Newsblog



How Plastics Fight Climate Change


Exclusive to Polymer Solutions News
Climate change is our biggest global threat, and plastics are part of the solution.
Climate change is our biggest global threat, and plastics are part of the solution.

Can plastics help solve climate change, one of our most pressing global problems? Yes! New advances in plastic production can reduce both carbon dioxide emissions and demand on fossil fuel reserves, too.

The Problem

As greenhouse gas emissions continue to warm up the atmosphere, the U.N. intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is urging member governments to find ways to cut emissions before it is too late. The consequences of not addressing climate change (such as increasing of Earth's temperature, reducing ice cover, raising sea levels, increasing the acidity of the oceans) are well known and supported by mounds of scientific information and prognosis. Yet, many of us understand that our individual actions must match larger, systemic changes.

This month, the Obama administration is taking steps to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants -- the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. -- by applying the Clean Air Act to greenhouse gases. The Department of Energy created the Carbon Capture and Storage Research program to develop and deploy clean coal technologies. Significant advancements have been achieved in developing technologies to capture and reuse carbon from emitted greenhouse gases, giving us hope for sustainable future.

Plastics' Role in the Solution

One way to recycle carbon dioxide is to make plastic. For example, a sustainable materials company, Novomer, in collaboration with chemical manufacturer Albemarle Corporation, has developed a way to manufacture polypropylene carbonate polyol, producing 7 tons of finished polymer in spring 2013. Carbon dioxide constitutes more than 40 percent of the resulting plastic, which is produced by polymerization of epoxides and carbon dioxide in the presence of a catalyst (used to accelerate chemical reaction but not consumed in the process):

The new technology utilizes carbon dioxide instead of petroleum as a feedstock for polymer production. This can result in a wide range of biodegradable products, including rigid or flexible foams, thermoplastics, adhesives, sealants, surfactants, and coating resins. The new plastics are designed to replace conventional petroleum-based polyether, polyester, and polycarbonate polyols. Another technological process, developed by Novomer, combines carbon monoxide feedstock with ethylene oxide to result in propiolactone, a chemical intermediate in the production of acrylic acid, acrylate esters, butanediol, and other chemicals, with a market potential of $12 billion.

Another family of plastics that can be produced from carbon dioxide is the polyurethane family. A recent environmental assessment of a Bayer pilot plant that produces polyols (the major component of polyurethanes) from carbon dioxide confirmed the energy efficiency and reduction in carbon footprint when compared to fossil-fuel-based plastic production. The carbon dioxide is captured from a lignite power plant in Niederaußem, Germany.

The assessment took into account the energy used to capture carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is collected using amine-based solvents after burning fossil fuel (so-called post-combustion capture). The process is quite efficient and traps up to 90 percent of emitted carbon dioxide. Generally-speaking, post-combustion capture can be added to existing fossil-burning power plants and address the problem with carbon dioxide emissions very effectively.

The capture process involves passing flue gases from the power plant through a column with a counterflow of amine solvent, which effectively binds carbon dioxide before the flue gases are released into the atmosphere. The solvent is collected, heated to release carbon dioxide, which is pressurized, while the solvent is returned to the capture column. Using nonvolatile, environmentally-friendly solvent further increases efficiency and decreases the cost. Thus, Siemens has developed a post-combustion capture process using a solution of amino acid salt instead of an organic solvent to capture carbon dioxide. Their technology has been used for a coal-fired plant in Germany since 2009, and for a gas-fired plant since 2012.

Closing the Loop

After carbon dioxide from the power plant is captured, it can be used to produce a range of chemicals and bioplastics, thus closing the loop. While the use of polyols for plastic production we discussed earlier is environmentally beneficial and chemically efficient compared to oil-based production, it still cannot be considered a greenhouse gas sink, meaning that for the environment, it is better not to produce polyols either way. However, there is a carbon-negative way to produce plastic literally "out of the air":

The plastic called "AirCarbon," is produced by a California company, Newlight Technologies, and is made from greenhouse gases containing methane. (Methane exceeds the heat-trapping impact of carbon dioxide more than 20 times). Newlight developed a microorganism-based biocatalyst to produce bioplastic PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) with a conversion yield exceeding previous greenhouse gas-to-PHA conversion technologies almost 10 times, drastically reducing the price of the resulting polymer. AirCarbon can be shaped into a variety of products, from chairs to thin film. In fact, Dell recently started using AirCarbon plastic bags to package their computers, while Sprint uses it for phone cases.

Not only can AirCarbon compete with oil-based plastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene in terms of price, but the resulting polymers are biodegradable and carbon-negative on a cradle-to-grave basis. These lifecycle functional abilities were independently verified by Trucost in cooperation with the National Science Foundation (NSF). AirCarbon was named as "bio-material of the year" in 2013 at the International Conference on Bio-based Plastics and Composites. Newlight Technology, a 10-year-old company, holds eight patents on their technology. This beautiful, change-the-world sustainability idea finally makes carbon sequestration profitable. 

Solutions to the climate crisis already exist. We can use these technologies in cost-efficient and even profitable ways. According to the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, we can keep the lights on, without costing the earth. The biggest question, then, is will we?

Image by Robert Kandel.


Should a Patent Drawing Mistake Collapse Cancer Research? You Decide!


by Alan Sentman, Ph.D. and Caitlyn Scaggs, director of Communications and Marketing
Exclusive to Polymer Solutions News

One biotech firm recently learned a painful lesson in the need for attention to detail. Oncoceutics discovered an anticancer drug, known as TIC10, and patented it with this claim:

Excerpt from U.S. Patent 8673923.
Excerpt from U.S. Patent 8673923.

However, that is the wrong structure of the chemical!

Scientists from Scripps Research Institute in California tried to synthesize TIC10 according to the specifications found in the patent and discovered it was biologically inactive. They then obtained samples of TIC10 and did lab analysis to compare the sample they synthesized against a known sample. This led to the discovery that Oncoceutics had filed a patent with the incorrect structure. Scripps saw an opportunity and filed a patent based on the correct structure.

Structure of TIC10, as filed by Scripps.
Structure of TIC10, as filed by Scripps.

This means that Oncoceutics is in the middle of a multiyear clinical study for a drug that it possibly doesn't own the patent for! Oncoceutics released the following statement on this matter:

Our invention is the discovery that our lead compound, ONC201, which was originally synthesized by Boehringer Ingelheim, distributed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and manufactured by Oncoceutics, has unexpected activity against human cancer. The fact that the drawing included in the Boehringer Ingelheim patent, the NCI literature characterizing the compound, and ultimately our patent does not accurately represent the isomeric details of the structure does not impact Oncoceutics' underlying invention.

Oncoceutics' claim is that the structure detailed in the patent doesn't matter in the greater scheme of things and they should get ownership over Scripps' patent. Although the patent claim Oncoceutics submitted is very clearly not the correct structure, there will be an argument that someone "skilled in the art" of synthesis could duplicate the patent work. If they followed the literature they would get the correct structure, so the patent still applies.

Arguably the most unfortunate part of this situation is that the battle to determine the ownership of this pharmaceutical is likely to stall the clinical trials, which are slated to begin soon. Ultimately, this drug is being created for the serious needs of cancer patients. Can the two companies get this resolved quickly for the greater good?

We would love to know what you think! Who should get rights to the pharmaceutical compound known as TIC10 -- Onconeutics or Scripps? Send in your answer with an explanation for a chance at an Amazon.com gift card. The Polymer Solutions team will pick a winner based on the best explanation and most clever reasoning -- good luck!

Sources:
"Onconeutics Announces Response to Publication in Angewandte Chemie International Edition Regarding Onconeutics Lead Compound ONC201."
"Tug-of-War Over Promising Cancer Drug Candidate. Drug Discovery: Structure Error Threatens Existing Patent and Clinical Trials," by Stu Borman, Chemical & Engineering News, Volume 92, Issue 21, P.7. May 26, 2014.
Images by U.S. Patent 8673923 and Alan Sentman, Ph.D of Polymer Solutions.


Highlights From the Polymer Solutions Newsblog

The PSI Newsblog features original reporting on breaking news in the fields of plastics analysis, plastics testing, and plastics failure. Here are this month's most popular articles:

  1. Biodegradable Plastic From Crab Shells
    What if there were a natural, renewable, ecological source for biodegradable plastic -- a plastic that not only is fully compostable, but also can be used as a fertilizer?
  2. Why Is Chocolate Good for You?
    As Harry Potter fans know, it's a proven remedy for the aftereffects of Dementor attacks.
  3. A New, Recyclable Thermoset Plastic
    Chemical recycling, called depolymerization, takes plastics back to the monomers. This is now possible with thermosets.
  4. Polymers Can Bring Your Drawing to New Heights
    Imagine if you could draw in 3D. Yes, it is possible now!
  5. The Nose Knows
    People can detect certain genes by smell alone without seeing another person! Here are the ways we can examine these chemical messages.

Sources

Source: "The What, When and Where of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Visual Summary of the IPCC's Climate Mitigation Report," by Mat Hope, carbonbrief.org, April 13, 2014.
Source: "Obama to Unveil Rule to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions," by Neela Banerjee, chicagotribune.com, May 29, 2014.
Source: "Future Climate Change," epa.gov.
Source: "Summary of the Clean Air Act," epa.gov
Source: "How Technology Can Halt Climate Change," by Wendy Coch, usatoday.com, December 30, 2013.
Source: "Carbon Capture and Storage Research," Office of Fossil Energy, energy.gov.
Source: "What Is Carbon Capture and Storage?" Big Sky Carbon, bigskyco2.org.
Source: "Recycling Carbon Dioxide to Make Plastics, Office of Fossil Energy," energy.gov, May 20, 2013.
Source: "Novomer Technology Overview," novomer.com.
Source: "Flue Gas Reclaimed as Polymer Feedstock," by Jennifer Newton, Chemistry World, rsc.org, May 27, 2014.
Source: "Life Cycle Assessment of Polyols for Polyurethane Production Using CO2 as Feedstock: Insights From an Industrial Case Study," by Niklas von der Assena and André Bardow, Green Chemistry, 2014,16, 3272-3280; DOI: 10.1039/C4GC00513A.
Source: "How Carbon Capture Works," by Debra Ronca, science.howstuffworks.com.
Source: "Post-Combustion Carbon Capture," energy.siemens.com.
Source: "Newlight Technologies: Out of Air, Into Plastic," newlight.com.
Source: "Plastic Made From Pollution Hits U.S. Market," by Wendy Koch, usatoday.com, December 13, 2013.
Source: "Dell Introduces New Packaging Takes Greenhouse Gases out of the Air and Builds PCs Reusing Plastic from Recycled Electronics," dell.com, May 20, 2014.
Source: "Better Solutions, One Phone Case at a Time: Sprint Supports New Technology That Turns Greenhouse Gas Into Plastic," newsroom.sprint.com, May 13, 2014.
Source: "Carbon Capture and Storage: Affordability," ccsassociation.org.

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