Carbon Dioxide and Lignin Offer Alternative to Traditional Plastic

Carbon Dioxide and Lignin Offer Alternative to Traditional Plastic
Researchers have created a potential alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastic made from carbon dioxide, plus lignin, a component of wood.
Technology Briefing


Modern life relies on plastics. These light weight, adaptable materials are the foundation of industries as varied as packaging, medical equipment, aerospace, automotive and many more. Unfortunately, plastic waste remains a problem as it overwhelms landfills and pollutes oceans. But according to new research published in Advanced Functional Materials, a team of researchers has created a potential alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastic that is made from carbon dioxide (or CO2), plus lignin, a component of wood that is a low-cost byproduct of paper manufacturing and biofuel production.

This innovation takes the greenhouse gas CO2 and turns it into a useful raw material for producing degradable polymers or plastics. The new study is the first to demonstrate the direct synthesis of what’s known as a cyclic carbonate monomer — a molecule made of carbon and oxygen atoms that can be linked with other molecules — made from CO2 and lignin. By linking multiple monomers together, scientists can create synthetic polymers, long chained molecules that can be designed to fill all manner of applications.

Best of all, the material is fully degradable at the end of its life eliminating microplastics and toxic substances. And the polymer can be recycled without losing its original properties. Furthermore, it can be synthesized at lower pressures and temperatures than many common plastics. Using depolymerization, the researchers can convert the plastic polymers to pure monomers, which are the building blocks of polymers.

This is the key to the high quality of the recycled material. The monomers can be re cycled indefinitely and produce a high-quality polymer as good as the original. The newly developed material could be ideal for low-cost, short lifespan plastic products in such sectors as construction, agriculture, packaging, cosmetics, textiles, diapers and disposable kitchenware. With further development, the researchers anticipate its use in highly specialized polymers for biomedical and energy storage applications.


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