Researchers Develop Biomass As Ingredients To Plastics Instead Of Petroleum

Nov 30, 2016 04:38 AM EST | Rowland Eturma

Petroleum has a lot of uses besides being converted to gasoline or the lowly petroleum jelly. Its chemical product is one of the most important ingredients to common plastics. Now a team from three prominent schools in the United States just made a chemical process for the production of plastics out of biomass instead of petroleum and it's worth looking into.

Chemical engineering researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Minnesota, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware has developed a new chemical process that uses lignocellulosic biomass to make p-xylene and producing a 97 percent yield, the highest it has achieved to so far, according to a report by Green Car Congress.

P-xylene is currently produced from petroleum and its xylene chemicals are used to make polyethylene plastics that are currently used for products that include soda bottles, synthetic fibers and automotive parts. The market for plastic products has been growing annually by 5 percent and the new process can drastically cut costs of plastic production.

The new process will make the same p-xylene from lower cost, renewable biomass. This biomass p-xylene can then be mixed with petroleum-based plastics and consumers will not be able to tell the difference. With this breakthrough, manufacturers and chemical companies will be able to operate more sustainably because of this discovery, Biomass Magazine has reported.

The discovery is part of the larger effort by the US Department of Energy's Energy Frontiers Research Center program to create breakthrough technologies for producing biofuels and chemicals from organic biomass not used for food or animal feed. Biomass has been proven to be a source of energy and can either be harnessed through direct combustion to produce heat, or converting it to various forms of biofuel. The DOE has been collaborating with accredited private learning institutions to solve the world's most pressing energy challenges.

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