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Non-toxic, biodegradable plastic resin promises cleaner construction materials

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January 25, 2011

Scientists from the University of Amsterdam have developed a range of new thermoset resins...

Scientists from the University of Amsterdam have developed a range of new thermoset resins made from plant materials (Image: Gadi Rothenberg)

Scientists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have developed a process for making fully biodegradable, non-toxic and non-hazardous thermoset resins from readily available, low-cost plant materials. It's hoped that this new range of plastics could be used for panels such as MDF in the construction industry and replace polyurethane and polystyrene packaging ... all without increasing cost or production times.

Most of the plastic products used in domestic products and the construction industry are thermosetting plastics; polymer materials that irreversibly cure.

They are made of three-dimensional networks of cross-linked polymers. Bakelite resin, produced from the reaction of phenol with formaldehyde, is one example, and the material is still used to bind wood fibers in pressed wood such as medium density fiberboard (MDF) and formica. Synthetic resins are also widely used in the construction industry for example in Medium Density Overlay (MDO), a combination of concrete and plywood, used in concrete molds.

Modern synthetic resins have a lot of negatives: they are made from diminishing fossil sources, are not biodegradable and can only be burned under strict conditions because they release toxic substances.

However, by combining plant materials and specific process conditions Professor Gadi Rothenberg and Dr. Albert Alberts of the University of Amsterdam's (UvA) Heterogeneous Catalysis and Sustainable Chemistry research group, have created a selection of bio-plastics ranging from hard foam material to flexible thin sheet materials.

Production time is comparable to current thermosetting processes, and the research team believe they can compete with existing plastics on price, but will need to manufacture on a larger scale to be certain.

A major plus is the availability and affordability of raw materials. Any plant materials can be used, for example grass, hay and trees.

Follow-up research will focus on new applications and process development and upscaling.

2 Comments

This sounds like the discovery of the century, full marks to these Dutch scientists.

Terotech
26th January, 2011 @ 08:06 am PST

This process will have an important impact in several respects. First it will enable people to live safely in houses or trailers (as the type FEMA supplied after Katrina) that contain plastics in the construction materials. Secondly, it will prevent plastics from circulating in our oceans and filling up our landfills. Finally, it will lead us away from dependency on petroleum as a required source of raw materials.

Adrian Akau
29th January, 2011 @ 07:56 am PST
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