Recently, scientists made a new type of plastic directly from biomass – organic plant waste. Avoiding the accumulation of plastic waste and moving away from fossil fuels is the key to tackling climate change.

The accumulation of plastic waste in the environment is one of the main causes of climate change. To tackle this problem, scientists have been working for years to make degradable or recyclable polymers from non-edible plant material referred to as “lignocellulosic biomass”.

Scientists developed a new plastic material directly from waste biomass

A team of scientists led by Professor Jeremy Luterbacher at EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, have successfully created a biomass-derived plastic similar to PET(Polyethylene terephthalate). This new environmentally friendly biomass-derived plastic will help us meet the criteria for replacing several current plastics.

It is super easy to manufacture this innovative plastic and it could be used to make everything from packaging covers and textiles to medicine bottles and electronics.

 

“We essentially just ‘cook’ wood or other non-edible plant material, such as agricultural wastes, in inexpensive chemicals to produce the plastic precursor in one step,” says Luterbacher. “By keeping the sugar structure intact within the molecular structure of the plastic, the chemistry is much simpler than current alternatives.”

According to Eurekalert, the technique is based on a discovery that Luterbacher and his colleagues published in 2016. Adding an aldehyde could stabilize certain fractions of plant material and avoid their destruction during extraction. By repurposing this chemistry, the researchers were able to rebuild a new useful bio-based chemical as a plastic precursor.

“By using a different aldehyde – glyoxylic acid instead of formaldehyde – we could simply clip ‘sticky’ groups onto both sides of the sugar molecules, which then allows them to act as plastic building blocks,” says Lorenz Manker, the study’s first author. “By using this simple technique, we are able to convert up to 25% of the weight of agricultural waste, or 95% of purified sugar, into plastic.”

READ : Scientists created biodegradable food packaging that will eliminate harmful bacteria build-up in foods

The promising properties of these plastics could allow them to be used in a wide range of applications. The scientists in Switzerland have already made packaging films, fibers that could be spun into clothing or other textiles, and filaments for 3D printing.

“The plastic has very exciting properties, notably for applications like food packaging, Luterbacher said.” “What makes the plastic unique is the presence of the intact sugar structure.”

“This makes it incredibly easy to make because you don’t have to modify what nature gives you, and it is simple to degrade because it can go back to a molecule that is already abundant in nature, he said.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature Chemistry.