Plastic fantastic: plastic from trees

Tom James @ 19-05-2009

leafIn preparation for when the oil runs out (or becomes economically unviable to extract – as detailed in The End of Oil by Paul Roberts) scientists have started developing alternative methods for making plastic. In this case from trees:

Some researchers hope to turn plants into a renewable, nonpolluting replacement for crude oil. To achieve this, scientists have to learn how to convert plant biomass into a building block for plastics and fuels cheaply and efficiently. In new research, chemists have successfully converted cellulose — the most common plant carbohydrate — directly into the building block called HMF in one step.

HMF, also known as 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, can be used as a building block for plastics and “biofuels” such as gasoline and diesel, essentially the same fuels processed from crude oil.

Given that so much of our industrial infrastructure rests on oil it is reassurring that alternative sources of basic materials are being developed.

[from Physorg][image from linh.ngân on flickr]

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4 Responses to “Plastic fantastic: plastic from trees”

  1. Evil Rocks says:

    Biofuels still suck if you care about things like horsepower, torque and general move-shit-around potential. Due to their organic origins they spew a surprising amount of miscellaneous particulate matter and partially-reacted fuel, but this is more due to the internal-combustion engine’s problem with not reacting fuelstock completely as opposed to anything inherent to biofuels themselves.

    If we switched our transportation industry from internal combustion (using fuels to generate mechanical energy and using that to drive vehicles) to external combustion (using fuels to heat a liquid into a gas in order to spin a turbine for electricity) we could cut emissions of partially-reacted hydrocarbons (which turn into acid rain and are several orders of magnitude more potent in terms of warming potential than CO2) and particulate matter dramatically.

    However, this will never happen because the American government is full of groupthink and doesn’t understand how to institutionalize innovation outside of the military.

  2. Kian Momtahan says:

    Rocks do you happen to have a link to a good source of information about external combustion engines. They sound interesting.

    Nice article but it does make me wonder if it won’t just bring up the problems of deforestation again.

  3. Evil Rocks says:
  4. Kian says:

    ^_^