Finding alternative materials to plastic is a key step towards achieving a circular economy, where no harmful waste ever makes its way into the environment. In this pursuit, scientists have been using all sorts of biomass types to produce more eco-friendly bioplastics, and one of the latest involves the use of wood powder — a typical waste product at lumber mills.
Developed by scientists at Yale University, the new material was made by combining the wood powder with a biodegradable solvent which turned the lumber mill waste product into a slurry of organic polymers and cellulose. This slurry was then able to be cast as a bioplastic, whose properties the team tested alongside conventional plastics.
As part of their experiments, the scientists buried sheets of the bioplastic in the soil and noticed that they became fractured after two weeks and degraded entirely in three months. On top of that, the bioplastic exhibited high strength, stability when made to hold liquids, and resistance to UV light.
“There are many people who have tried to develop these kinds of polymers in plastic, but the mechanical strands are not good enough to replace the plastics we currently use, which are made mostly from fossil fuels,” said co-author Yuan Yao. “We’ve developed a straightforward and simple manufacturing process that generates biomass-based plastics from wood, but also plastic that delivers good mechanical properties as well.”
According to the researchers, the novel material could find use in a variety of products, including a film for bags and packaging, as well as products used in the construction and auto industries.