A research team working under the US Department of Energy’s Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation has developed a new way to turn plants into plastic.
The scientists converted plant sugars to furfural, a compound common in bran. Then they converted furfural into something called tetrahydrofuran, also called oxolane, which is a precursor of plastics. Finally, they dehydrated the oxolane, which created a material called phosphorus all-silica zeolite.
Zeolite is a basic building block for making butadiene, the chief ingredient in creating polymers used to make everything from tough tires to surgical gloves. It also is essential in fashioning hard plastic items like computer cases. The manufacturer of Legos, a company whose toy is almost literally built out of hard plastic, is among a growing number of manufacturers that have made clear a desire for sustainable feedstocks.
TRENDPOST: Sustainable and biodegradable plastics are key growth areas in what’s being called the circular economy, in which products made from renewable resources and trash from one process becomes raw material for others.