On 9 March scientists, Assistant Professor Mathew Kanan and graduate student Aanindeeta Banerjee, of Stanford University, disclosed that they had found a new way to create Plastic from agricultural waste by using carbon dioxide (CO2) and inedible plant materials such as agricultural waste and grasses. Researchers claim that the new technology could cater a low-carbon alternative to plastic bottles and other items that are at present being made by using petroleum. The scientists have made their discloser about their new discovery in online edition of the journal Nature.
Replacing the formula of Plastic
At present a number of Plastic products are being produced by using a polymer termed polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that is also called polyester. About 50 million tons of PET are being produced each year all over the world for making items such as fabrics, personal care products, electronics and recyclable beverage containers.
PET is made by using terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol; these two components are obtained from refined petroleum and natural gas. So, in the process of manufacturing PET significant amount of CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
In this context Professor Kana informed, “the use of fossil- fuel feedstocks, combined with the energy required to manufacture PET, generates more than four tons of CO2 for every ton of PET that’s produced”.
According to the scientists, polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PET) can be a promising alternative to PET. PET is made by using ethylene glycol and a compound termed 2-5- Furandi carboxylic acid (FDCA). They claim that PEF is superior to PET at securing oxygen that in turn is useful for bottling applications.
Despite many qualities that PEF can be attributed with, the plastic from agricultural waste industry has not, till date, found a way to produce it at a large scale. The main problem lies in finding a commercially viable way to produce FDCA on a regular basis.
According to the scientists, the use of inedible biomass like grasses or waste material left over harvest would be much better to produce FDCA because using fructose can be problematic because its production has a substantial carbon footprint.
Making Plastic from Agricultural Waste
The scientist, inspite of using sugar from corn to produce FDCA, were experimenting with furfural. Furfural is a compound made by plastic from agricultural waste that is being widely used for decades. It has been estimated that about 400,000 tons of furfural are produced each year for use in resins, solvents and other products.
However, according to the opinion of the Stanford team, making FDCA from furfural and CO2 defeats the purpose of the team’s work because it requires hazardous chemicals that are expensive and energy- intensive.
The graduate student Aanindeeta Banerjee, a member of the Stanford team and a lead author of the Nature study, solved the problem by using a far more amiable compound, known as carbonate. She, after combining carbonate with co2 and furoic acid (a derivative of furfural), heated the mixture to about 290 degree Fahrenheit to produce a molten salt. After five hours of process, 89 per cent of the molten-salt mixture was converted into FDCA. The next step of changing FDCA into PEF plastic, according to the Team, is a very easy process that has already been worked out.
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This kind of conversion of carbon has the potential to significantly curtail greenhouse emission because the CO2 that is required to produce PEF could be procured from fossil- fuel power plant emissions or other industrial sites.
By using the process of incineration, products produced of PEF can also be converted back to atmospheric CO2 or recycled. Eventually, the recycled CO2 will be consumed by grasses, weeds and other renewable plants which in turn can be used to produce more PEF.
The Team of Professor Kenan has also started to apply their new discovery to the production of renewable fuels and other compounds from hydrogen and CO2.
Stanford University, through the Center for Molecular Analysis and Design, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, catered the support for this research.
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