High-tech uses for designer polymers

A new way to grow designer plastics, devised and patented by research chemists at the University of Warwick, is now being tested by major companies for use in a range of products as diverse as hairspray, anti-obesity drugs and inkjet printer ink.


The technology, known as Living and Controlled Radical Polymerisation, can grow polymers (plastics) cheaply and easily, to specific designs under precise control. The chemistry involved in the method devised at Warwick no longer needs the expensive sub–zero temperatures and extremely pure solvents used in previous designer polymer processes.

Warwick’s pioneering polymer technology has already been used to produce designer polymers for high-value applications in adhesives, pharmaceuticals, biomaterials and medical devices for companies such as Unilever, Proctor and Gamble and Geltex.

The collaboration with Unilever, for example, has resulted in new personal care products subject to large scale customer trials. It has proved so successful that Warwick Effect Polymers Ltd, the spin-out company created by the university researchers, has generated revenues of more than £8.5 million annually. It attracted an initial investment of £3.77 million from a US business angel, and a
further £13.5 million investment in 2012. Combined public and private investment has meant the research has already delivered a return of over £2 for every £1 of investment, with much more to come.


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