A process (and/or catalyst) to make ultra-high molecular weight polylactide


Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the most promising kinds of bioplastics. It is a bio-sourced, degradable polymer that can be made using renewable materials and represents a crucial way to reduce our dependence on single-use plastics sourced from fossil fuels. However, there has not been an efficient way to create the ultra-high molecular weight (UHMW) PLA that would allow the material to be used at an industrial scale.

Dr. Robinson’s team has developed a process and catalyst for creating ultra-high molecular weight polylactide at room temperature. The low-toxicity catalyst can be used in small amounts, and the reaction proceeds at low temperatures.

Market Opportunity

PLA is the second-most-used bioplastics in the world. The material is currently used in a variety of applications, including as a growing sustainable replacement for single-use plastics. For example, because of its low melting point, high strength, low thermal expansion, and good layer adhesion, it is widely used in 3D printing.

Today, the potential uses of PLA are limited by the cost of production and the polymer composition. Access to UHMW PLA could provide materials with improved toughness and strength, making PLA useful for a variety of new applications.

 Innovation and Meaningful Advantages

The ring opening polymerization (ROP) of lactide to make PLA was known to be an efficient way to synthesize high molecular weight PLA. However, despite intense research in catalyst design, designing systems that display high activity at room temperature while maintaining tolerance to impurities has been a challenge. Robinson’s team has invented a catalyst and accompanying method to create UHMW PLA under room-temperature conditions, and the non-toxic (or low-toxicity) catalyst can be used in amounts as low as 200 ppm.

Furthermore, Robinson and colleagues found that their catalyst is also capable of modifying UHMW-PLA to generate novel, random copolymers of PLA. The required process, called trans-esterification, can proceed quickly under mild ambient conditions. This approach could create forms of PLA with dramatically different mechanical, thermal, and degradation profiles. It also uses of inexpensive polyols and requires very low catalyst loadings, which is a positive from a cost and new materials perspective.

Additionally, Robinson’s catalysts are not only highly active but also tolerant to impurities; a quality lacking with typical reactive catalysts. This leads to catalysts that require less monomer purification, which offers cost and operational advantages.

Collaboration Opportunity

We are seeking an investment opportunity to further develop this innovative technology.

Principal Investigator

Jerome Robinson, PhD
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Brown University

IP Information

Provisional Application Filed



Victoria Campbell, PhD
Director of Business Development
Brown Tech ID 3189
Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Brown Technology Innovations
350 Eddy Street - Box 1949
Providence, RI 02903
Jerome Robinson
Kerry Casey
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