Nanotechnology turns plants into common plastic

Thu Feb 16, 2012 7:00pm GMT
 

* Team envisages using non-food biomass for process

* Research published in Science journal still at early stage

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Dutch scientists have found a way of turning plant matter into the building blocks of common plastics using a nanotechnology process that offers an alternative to oil-based production.

The team from Utrecht University and Dow Chemical Co produced ethylene and propylene - precursors of materials found in everything from CDs to carrier bags and carpets - after developing a new kind of iron catalyst made of nanoparticles.

Existing bioplastics, which are made from crops such as corn and sugar, have only limited use as they are not exact substitutes for oil-based products.

The new system, by contrast, produces chemicals that are the same as those made in petrochemical works, allowing them to be used in a wide range of industries.

This also means they will not be biodegradable, although they will be made from renewable resources.

Researcher Krijn De Jong and his colleagues envisage using non-food sources of biomass for the new process, such as fast-growing trees or grasses, rather than traditional crops, in order to reduce competition for resources between food and fuel.   Continued...

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