Today’s Solutions: March 23, 2023

While banning plastics is an important measure for curbing pollution, replacing plastics as a practical consumer material is important. 

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne have developed a plant-based alternative for plastics that decompose into sugar. 

“The plastic has very exciting properties, notably for applications like food packaging,” research leader professor Jeremy Luterbacher at EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences said in a press release.

Researchers have been struggling to find an alternative to plastic with the same versatility and durability. Plastic’s low cost and ease of production also make it hard to replace. The Swiss team, though, thinks they have found a comparable alternative in their “new plastic” which is made from non-edible plant material and is similar in quality to the plastic used in water bottles. 

“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,” said Luterbacher.

The material is made with a method developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology which alters lignin, a polymer found in biofuels, and converts it into a potential source for bio-based plastics and fuels. The team also found they were able to convert the material back into sugars. They have been able to use the material in packaging, textile fibers, and 3D-printing filaments

“Although standardized biodegradation studies still need to be performed, the inherently degradable nature of these materials facilitated their chemical recycling via methanolysis at 64 °C, and eventual depolymerization in room-temperature water,” the authors wrote in the study. 

Source Study: Nature Chemistry — Sustainable polyesters via direct functionalization of lignocellulosic sugars | Nature Chemistry

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