The primary objective of Dr. Cunningham's research is to address challenges related to the implementation of green chemistry and green engineering solutions to the manufacture of polymeric materials, pmiicularly high value-added materials with tailored architectures. The four main target areas to be addressed are:
- Preparing "smart" water-based polymer nanopmiicles that will change their physical properties in the presence of a particular chemical signal.
- Developing applications for "switchable water" to allow reduction or elimination of solvents used in a variety of industrial processes (e.g. polymers currently made as mixtures with harmful organic solvents such as toluene could be made without using toluene, which would reduce energy consumption in addition to reducing toxic compound emissions;
- Developing water-based processes to replace solvent-based processes for new polymerization chemistries that enable advanced polymer architectures, allowing manufacture of value added materials with minimal energy consumption and use/release of toxic compounds into the environment, and;
- Treating biomass using "ionic liquids" to produce renewable energy and chemicals from renewable resources. Ionic liquids are a new class of green solvents that facilitate innovative green chemistry/engineering approaches to environmental challenges.