But Chuanbing Tang at the University of South Carolina is developing new plastics that are “green” from the cradle to the grave. Given that the new polymers he’s working on often come from pine trees, firs and other conifers, he’s giving the word “evergreen” added resonance.
Rather than tapping a barrel of oil to obtain starting materials, Tang’s research group instead begins with the natural resins found in trees, especially evergreens. The rosin and turpentine derived from their wood is rich in hydrocarbons, similar but not identical to some components of petroleum.
Hydrocarbon-rich starting materials, whether from petroleum or tree resin, can be converted into various forms of what are commonly termed “plastics” through polymerization. With petroleum derivatives, scientists have invested more than a hundred years of research into refining the polymer chemistry involved, and their success in that endeavor is evident in the range of plastics now part of common parlance, such as Plexiglas, polycarbonate and PVC.
But processes for developing plastics from renewable sources, such as rosin and turpentine, are not nearly as developed. “Renewable polymers currently suffer from inferior performance in comparison to those derived from petroleum,” Tang said.
His laboratory is a national leader in helping change that situation. Tang just received a National Science Foundation CAREER award to further develop the polymer chemistry he has been refining since he arrived as a chemistry professor in USC’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2009. The award from NSF’s Division of Materials Research will support Tang’s laboratory through 2018.
“The aim is to understand how the macromolecular compositions and architectures dictate the properties of the materials we make,” Tang said. “If we can establish clear structure-property relationships, we will be able to achieve the kinds of results we now get from polymers made from petroleum.”
According to Tang, molecules derived from wood products are particularly worthwhile targets. “They’re a rich source of the cycloaliphatic and aromatic structures that make good materials after polymerization,” he said. “They have the rigid molecular structures and hydrophobicity that materials scientists know work well.”
They also have an advantage at the end of their life cycle. By virtue of being a direct product of biology, the renewable starting materials are a familiar sight for the microbes responsible for biodegradation. “Most plastics from non-renewable resources are generally not biodegradable,” Tang said. “With a polymer framework derived from renewable sources, we’re able to make materials that should break down more readily in the environment.”
Together with graduate student Perry Wilbon, Tang worked with Fuxiang Chu of the Chinese Academy of Forestry to prepare the first comprehensive review of terpenes, terpenoids, and rosin, three components of tree resin (and other natural products as well) that are plentiful sources of cycloaliphatic and aromatic structures. Published as the cover article in Wiley’s Macromolecular Rapid Communications in January 2013, the review is a blueprint for just one approach that Tang is taking to develop sustainable polymers from the greenest of sources.
This research was supported in part by an NSF CAREER award (1252611).
Steven Powell | Newswise
New design improves performance of flexible wearable electronics
23.06.2017 | North Carolina State University
Plant inspiration could lead to flexible electronics
22.06.2017 | American Chemical Society
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology