Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Turning Pine Sap Into “Ever-Green” Plastics

22.02.2013
Plastic bags are a bane of nature. And not just bags – just about all plastics, really. Most are made out of petroleum, and a piece of plastic, if it misses the recycling bin and ends up in a landfill, will probably outlast human civilization.

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
Further information:
http://www.sc.edu

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Additive manufacturing reflects fundamental metallurgical principles to create materials
18.01.2019 | University of Sheffield

nachricht Brilliant glow of paint-on semiconductors comes from ornate quantum physics
17.01.2019 | Georgia Institute of Technology

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Ten-year anniversary of the Neumayer Station III

The scientific and political community alike stress the importance of German Antarctic research

Joint Press Release from the BMBF and AWI

The Antarctic is a frigid continent south of the Antarctic Circle, where researchers are the only inhabitants. Despite the hostile conditions, here the Alfred...

Im Focus: Ultra ultrasound to transform new tech

World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles

The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Additive manufacturing reflects fundamental metallurgical principles to create materials

18.01.2019 | Materials Sciences

How molecules teeter in a laser field

18.01.2019 | Life Sciences

The cytoskeleton of neurons has been found to be involved in Alzheimer's disease

18.01.2019 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>