The researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath have introduced a renewable plastic from a chemical substance known as ‘Pinene’ present in pine needles.
Pinene is the fragrant chemical from the terpene group that delivers pine trees their distinctive ‘Christmas smell’ and is a total waste product for the paper industry. The scientists expect that the plastic could be employed in a range of applications, comprising plastic bags, food packaging and even medical implants.
Degradable polyesters like PLA are prepared from crops like sugar cane or corn, but PLA can be mixed with a rubbery polymer known as caprolactone to make it more flexible. Caprolactone is prepared from crude oil and so the resulting plastic is not completely renewable. The scientists used pinene as the major raw material to make a novel sort of plastic that can be employed in the place of caprolactone.
As explained by Helena Quilter, a Ph.D student at the CSCT, “We are not talking about recycling the conventional Christmas trees into plastics, but rather using a waste product from the industry that would otherwise be thrown away, and turn it into something useful. “So if we can prepare a plastic from sustainable sources, it could create a major difference to the environment.”
Lecturer Matthew Davidson, Director of the CSCT and Whorrodlecturer of Sustainable Chemical Technologies, added, “This study is a part of a wider project that seems at employing bio-based chemicals such as pinene as a sustainable starting substance for making an assortment of useful products, in the place of petrochemicals. This diminishes our reliance on fossil fuels and offers a renewable feedstock that has the ability to revolutionize the chemical industry.”
The study, funded by the Physical Sciences and Engineering Research Council, is also examining employing other terpenes, like limonene from citrus fruit, as an alternative for the petrochemicals to create a range of items from pharmaceuticals to plastic. The study is still at the early stages, only a couple of grams have been prepared so far – but the researches aim to scale up the process to generate bugger quantities in the near future.
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