Bio-renewable process could help ‘green’ plastic

A renewable process for creating a plastic precursor called FDCA (shown above) could improve the economics of making plastic from biomass. Image courtesy of JAMES RUNDE

When John Wesley Hyatt patented the first industrial plastic in 1869, his intention was to create an alternative to the elephant tusk ivory used to make piano keys. But this early plastic also sparked a revolution in the way people thought about manufacturing: What if we weren’t limited to the materials nature had to offer?

Over a century later, plastics are an abundant part of our daily life. But these plastics are often derived from petroleum, contributing to our reliance on fossil fuels and driving harmful greenhouse gas emissions. To change that, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) scientists are trying to take the pliable nature of plastic in another direction, developing new and renewable ways of creating plastics from biomass.

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