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]


First ‘synthetic tree’ created

Paul Raven @ 15-09-2008

metal tree sculpture“I think that I shall never see / a poem as lovely as a tree.

Indeed, if they were all this small / we’d never see no trees at all… “

Proving a long-held theory that transpiration in trees is a physical process rather than a biological one, the world’s first synthetic tree isn’t much to look at… hell, you’d need a microscope to really make out the detail.

What use is a synthetic tree, anyhow? Well, it:

… should also be a useful platform for the study the properties of metastable liquids and a starting point from which to design new technologies for the management of water in chemical processes, heat transfer, and environmental engineering.

Water management, eh? Euphemistically speaking, I think that may be a fairly big business in a few decades. [image by SweetOne]