Plastic coatings without toxicity

3 November 2022

Nicole van Leeuwen en Felix de Zwart 1

At the ARC CBBC, we like to collaborate to innovate. Recently, two of our projects crossed paths; PhD candidates Felix de Zwart and Nicole van Leeuwen (UvA), both working on different ARC CBBC projects, published their work in ACS Macromolecules. They collaborated on the sustainable production of polyurea.


Polyurea is a type of plastic that is often used in the chemical industry. It is a very strong, flexible and durable type of plastic, making it very convenient for various coatings in industrial purposes.

In their publication, Felix and Nicole explain a new way to produce polyurea. In the traditional production process, molecules called isocyanates are produced as a side product. These isocyanates are not only toxic, they are also highly reactive, making them difficult to handle. Therefore, there is a high demand for new ways of producing polyurea, without producing isocyanates in the process.

Ruthenium catalysis

Such an isocyanate-free production route is exactly what Felix and Nicole present in their publication. They propose a novel way using ruthenium-catalyzed carbenes. Carbenes can already be found in many reaction processes, but by adding ruthenium as a catalyst, the process can be optimized. Adding catalysts to reactions facilitates these reaction, meaning less energy is demanded to make the reaction happen. Therefore, the addition of ruthenium makes the reaction pathway avoiding the toxic isocyanates more feasible.

Nicole also made a pitch about her research! Watch it below.