Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Inspired by nature, Cornell chemist finds way to make biodegradable plastic that imitates bacteria


Finding an economical way to make a polyester commonly found in many types of bacteria into a plastic with uses ranging from packaging to biomedical devices is a long-held scientific goal. Such a polymer would be a "green" plastic, in that it would be biodegradable.

Geoffrey Coates, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., has partially achieved this goal by discovering a highly efficient chemical route for the synthesis of the polymer, known as poly(beta-hydroxybutyrate) or PHB. The thermoplastic polyester is widely found in nature, particularly in some bacteria, where it is formed as intracellular deposits and used as a storage form of carbon and energy. And yet it shares many of the physical and mechanical properties of petroleum-based polypropylene, with the added benefit of being biodegradable.

Coates reported on his research group’s work with PHB in the first of two papers presented at the 225th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans at 3:30 p.m. CST Sunday, March 23.

PHB currently is produced through a costly, energy-intensive biological process involving the fermentation of sugar. However, the Coates group’s chemical route, once perfected, "is going to be a competitive strategy," the Cornell researcher believes.

In order to produce the polymer, the process first requires a monomer, in this case a lactone called beta-butyrolactone. This reacts with a zinc complex catalyst, discovered by Coates in the late 1990s, to make PHB.

The problem faced by the Coates group has been that beta-butyrolactone is a "handed" molecule, that is, it has two mirror images, like hands. Polymers produced from a mixture of two-handed forms have very poor properties. The researchers have been focusing on the development of a new catalyst for the production of the desired single-handed form of beta-butyrolactone, a process called carbonylation. The new catalyst, based on cobalt and aluminum, facilitates the addition of carbon monoxide to propylene oxide, an inexpensive ring compound called an epoxide. By using the commercially available handed form of propylene oxide in the reaction, the corresponding handed form of the lactone can be formed rapidly.

Coates is convinced that, "our carbonylation and polymerization processes are, in our opinion, the best." He adds, "A purely chemical route to a polymer that occurs in nature and is easily biodegradable is highly desirable."

Members of the Coates group at Cornell involved in the research include Yutan Getzler, Lee Rieth and Vinod Kundnani, all Ph.D. candidates, and postdoctoral associate Joseph Schmidt. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Nanobiotechnology Center at Cornell and the Cornell Center for Materials Research.

David Brand | Cornell University
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>