Getting rid of fossil fuels and avoiding the accumulation of plastics in the environment are the key to addressing the challenge of climate change. Recently, under the leadership of Professor Jeremy lutbach, School of basic science, Federal Institute of technology, Lausanne, Switzerland, researchers developed a biomass derived plastic similar to pet (polyethylene terephthalate), which meets the standard of replacing several existing plastics and is more environmentally friendly.
The reason why traditional plastics are so extensive is that they combine many advantages, such as low cost, thermal stability, mechanical strength, processability and compatibility. Any plastic substitute must match or exceed these advantages, and this task has always been very challenging.
"We basically 'cook' wood or other inedible plant materials with cheap chemicals, such as agricultural waste, to produce plastic precursors in one step," lutbach said By maintaining the integrity of sugar structure in the molecular structure of plastics, this chemical method is much simpler than the current production method of plastic substitutes.
This technology is based on a discovery made by lutbach and colleagues in 2016: adding an aldehyde can stabilize some parts of plant materials and avoid destroying them during extraction. By reusing this chemical, researchers were able to reconstruct a new and useful bio based chemical as a plastic precursor.
Lorentzmunk, the first author of the research paper, said: "by using a different aldehyde - glyoxylic acid rather than formaldehyde - we can simply clamp sugar molecules in the middle with 'viscous' groups, so that they can act as building blocks of plastics." This simple technology can convert up to 25% of agricultural waste or 95% of pure sugar into plastic.
The versatile properties of new plastics enable them to be used in packaging, textiles, pharmaceuticals, electronic products and other applications. Researchers have made packaging films, fibers that can be made into clothes or other textiles, and filaments for 3D printing.
"This plastic has very exciting properties, especially in applications such as food packaging." Lutbach said that its uniqueness lies in its complete sugar structure, which makes the plastic very easy to manufacture and easy to degrade.
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