Dutch Scientists Report Conversion of Plants into Plastics

Dutch scientists say they have developed a process that uses nanotechnology to convert plant matter into the basic components of plastics, an innovation that could ultimately provide an alternative to oil-based plastics in the manufacture of thousands of everyday products.

Using a catalyst made of nanoparticles, researchers from Utrecht University and Dow Chemical Co. say they were able to produce ethylene and propylene, the precursors of materials found in everything from compact discs to carpeting.

While existing bioplastics from crops such as corn and sugar are not exact duplicates of oil-based products, researchers say this process has the potential to produce chemicals like those currently used by plastics manufacturers.

The researchers envision using non-food crops — such as fast-growing trees or grasses — rather than traditional food crops. According to the study, published in the journal Science, the research is still at an early stage and is at least several years from large-scale production.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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