There is growing recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels and reduce the accumulation of plastics in the environment if we address climate change. Significant efforts are being made to create degradable or recyclable polymers from non-edible plant material as “lignocellulosic biomass.”
While it is not an easy task to develop competitive biomass-based plastics, this has been a challenge for alternative plastic materials due to the various benefits that conventional plastics possess.
Until now, scientists led by Professor Jeremy Luterbacher at EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences have successfully developed a plastic made from biomass that meets the criteria for replacing several current plastics while also being more environmentally friendly.
Making plastic from plant material using inexpensive chemicals involves cooking the material in these chemicals, which preserves the sugar structure within the molecular structure of the plastic. This more straightforward chemistry makes this a more accessible alternative to current methods.
The technique relies on a 2016 discovery by Luterbacher and colleagues, in which adding an aldehyde could stabilize specific fractions of plant material during extraction. By repurposing this chemistry, the experimenters were capable of rebuilding a new useful bio-based chemical as a plastic precursor.
Some well-rounded properties of these plastics could allow them to be used in various applications, from packaging and textiles to medicine and electronics. The researchers have already made films, fibers, and filaments for 3D printing.