Interreg Vlaanderen Nederland - GREENER



The GREENER project focusses on the search for a biobased and biodegradable alternative for the widespread and water-soluble polyacrylic acid. The project is coordinated by Maastricht University and has as partners Ghent University, KULeuven (Kulak), Govi, Millvision B.V. and Tenco DDM. The duration of the project is 3 years.

Project description

The GREENER project aims to contribute to a reduction in the microplastics pollution, which is currently a growing environmental problem. On the one hand, polymers will be developed with the same properties as the widespread, water-soluble polymer polyacrylic acid, but with the advantage that they will be both biobased and biodegradable, two characteristics that are not met by polyacrylic acid. Biobased raw materials to enable polymer synthesis are an important alternative for the increasingly scarce fossil raw materials, which are also associated with harmful impacts on the environment, for example their contribution to the greenhouse effect. The GREENER project starts from natural resources as alternative raw materials for polymers which have similar properties as compared to polyacrylic acid. It is not sufficient to only develop a new platform of bio-based polymers, but also the era of polymers after usage should be considered. Nowadays, polymers like polyacrylic acid are too often incinerated after use or dumped in landfills or oceans, where they contribute to the microplastics pollution since polyacrylic acid is not biodegradable. The alternative polymers that will be developed in this project are based on polyaspartic acid and will have as major advantage that they are biodegradable and will only release non-toxic natural products upon degradation.

The purpose of this project is to valorize the newly developed polymer platform replacing polyacrylic acid in a plethora of applications, ranging from superabsorbent materials in healthcare, to biomedical materials (e.g. wound dressings, cell carriers, scaffolds, etc.), cosmetics and coating applications.


These are the objectives of GREENER:

  • Development of a wide range of polyaspartic acid derivatives, both linear and branched
  • Development of polyaspartic acid hydrogels and networks
  • Valorization of the developed polyaspartic acid derivatives and hydrogels in a wide range of industrial applications (3D printing, coatings, cosmetics, SAPs)

Role of Ghent University

The Polymer Chemistry & Biomaterials group at Ghent University mainly focusses on the synthesis of modified polyaspartic acids with crosslinkable functional groups that can be used for the development of networks and hydrogels. Next to characterization and processing (electrospinning and 3D-printing) of the resulting materials, also their biodegradability will be studied. Furthermore, Ghent University will also take part in the valorization of the hydrogels for industrial applications, more specifically in cosmetics, 3D printing for biomedical applications and in superabsorbant materials for self-healing concrete.

English summary

Microplastics are today ubiquitous and form an increasing threat to the environment. Synthetic polymers, better known as plastics are well-established in our society and are used in an enormous range of applications. However, the major problem with the use of synthetic plastics is that they are rarely recovered or recycled after usage and since they are made of fossil raw materials, they are not biodegradable. The largest part of the plastics are often incinerated or are dumped in landfills or even in oceans, where large amounts of plastics form the so-called “plastic soup”. These plastics are not only a huge threat for birds and sea life which can get tangled up or choke in them, they also fragment into small microparticles which can unintentionally enter our food chain via plankton and aquatic life. The intrinsic toxicity of microplastics and the effect on human health is still a matter of discussion, but it has already been proven that microplastics have the ability to absorb other polluting substances which can be toxic.

Hence, there is a demand for sustainable alternatives for synthetic plastics, which the GREENER project tries to meet by focusing on the development of biobased and biodegradable polymers with the same properties as wide-spread and water-soluble polyacrylic acid. In this way, less harmful microplastics will enter the environment, and only non-toxic natural compounds will be released upon degradation of these alternatives. The focus of this investigation is on polyaspartic acid and its derivatives, as this polymer has very similar properties compared to polyacrylic acid, but with a major difference that it is derived from naturally occurring amino acids and hence it is both biobased and biodegradable. Next to synthesis, modification and study of the intrinsic properties of these materials, they will be valorized in an as broad as possible range of applications, going from superabsorbers for concrete to biomedical materials, cosmetics and paper coatings. In order to make this research possible, an interdisciplinary team of scientists from academia and industry will work together. All project partners will exchange their own expertise to make the whole process, starting from the synthesis of the building blocks to the delivery of finished products for applications, successful.

Dutch summary

Microplastics zijn de dag van vandaag alomtegenwoordig en vormen een steeds groter wordend probleem voor het milieu. Synthetische polymeren, beter gekend als plastics, zijn niet meer weg te denken uit onze maatschappij en worden gebruikt in een enorm bereik aan toepassingen. Het grote probleem bij synthetische plastics is echter dat ze zelden teruggewonnen of gerecycleerd worden na gebruik en aangezien ze afgeleid zijn van fossiele grondstoffen, zijn ze ook niet biodegradeerbaar. Het grootste deel van de plastics wordt dan ook thermisch verbrand na gebruik of belandt op stortplaatsen en zelfs in de oceanen, waar grote hoeveelheden plastics de zogenaamde “plastic soup” vormen. Deze plastics vormen niet alleen een gevaar voor zeedieren en vogels die erin verstrikt kunnen raken of erin kunnen stikken, ze kunnen ook verder fragmenteren tot microplastics die via plankton en zeedieren in onze voedselketen en in het drinkwater terecht kunnen komen. Over de intrinsieke toxiciteit van microplastics voor de mens bestaat nog geen eensgezindheid, maar er werd wel reeds aangetoond dat ze in staat zijn om vervuilende stoffen kunnen absorberen die wel toxisch kunnen zijn.

Vanuit de vraag naar duurzame alternatieven voor synthetische plastics focust het project GREENER zich op de ontwikkeling van biogebaseerde en biodegradeerbare polymeren met dezelfde eigenschappen als het wijdverspreide wateroplosbare polyacrylzuur. Hierdoor komen minder microplastics in het milieu terecht, en bij degradatie worden slechts niet-giftige, natuurlijke stoffen vrijgesteld. De focus ligt op polyaspartaat en zijn afgeleiden, gezien dit polymeer gelijkaardige eigenschappen heeft als polyacrylzuur maar met als grote verschil dat de structuur afgeleid is van natuurlijk voorkomende aminozuren en dus zowel biogebaseerd als biodegradeerbaar is. Naast de synthese, modificatie en studie van de intrinsieke eigenschappen van deze materialen, is het de bedoeling om ze te valoriseren in een zo breed mogelijk scala aan toepassingen, van superabsorbentia in beton over biomedische materialen en cosmetica tot papier coatings. Om dit mogelijk te maken, wordt er gewerkt in een interdisciplinair team van wetenschappers zowel uit de academische als uit de bedrijfswereld. De project partners zullen door uitwisseling van expertise trachten het volledige proces, van de synthese van de bouwstenen tot het afleveren van een afgewerkt product voor deze toepassingen, tot een goed einde te brengen.




Prof. Sandra Van Vlierberghe
Polymer Chemistry & Biomaterials Group
Department of Organic and Macromolecular Chemistry
Phone number: 09 264 45 08