In 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]
A splendid concept is being pursued to manipulate the roots of trees to create useful structures:
Pilot projects now underway in the United States, Australia and Israel include park benches for hospitals, playground structures, streetlamps and gates. “The approach is a new application of the well-known botanical phenomenon of aerial root development,” says Prof. Eshel. “Instead of using plant branches, this patented approach takes malleable roots and shapes them into useful objects for indoors and out.”
A company called Plantware is developing these, and similar methods, to create a wide variety of tree-based items. In addition researchers from Tel Aviv University are developing other environmentally friendly ideas:
Prof. Eshel’s team is also working on a number of other projects to save the planet’s resources. They are currently investigating a latex-producing shrub, Euphoria tirucalii, which can be grown easily in the desert, as a source for biofuel; they are also genetically engineering plant roots to ensure “more crop per drop,” an innovative approach to irrigation.
[story via Physorg]
If we were to colonise Mars, we’d need to give it an atmosphere. The best way to do that would be to duplicate the creation of atmosphere here on Earth – by letting plant life do the work for us. With this in mind, scientists are investigating
the trees that grow on a lofty extinct volcano in Mexico, to see if their ability to survive in the thin atmosphere could be transferred to the Martian surface. [Colony Worlds] [Image by Redvers]