Introducing the Gizmag Store

Making tougher biodegradable plastics from plants

By

November 18, 2010

Scientists are working to make tougher biodegradable plastics from plants (Image: Horia Va...

Scientists are working to make tougher biodegradable plastics from plants (Image: Horia Varlan via flickr)

Replacing petro-chemical-based plastics with plant-based alternatives is a growing area of research. One popular form of plant-derived plastic is Poly(lactic) acid, or PLA, a type of biodegradable plastic that is currently used to make bottles, bags and is woven into fibers to make clothes in place of polyester. Although PLA has similar mechanical properties to PETE polymer, it has significantly lower heat-resistance, which limits its uses. Researchers are now developing a new chemical catalyst to improve the properties of PLA, making it stronger and more heat-resistant so it can be used for a wider range of applications.

PLA is made from renewable plant sources such as corn starch, wheat or sugarcane, and although its been known of for more than a century, it has only gained commercial interest recently due to its biodegradability. In an effort to extends the range of uses for PLA to include applications such as engineering plastics for the automotive industry, microwavable trays and hot drink cups, scientists from the University of Bath and Tel Aviv University are developing a new chemical catalyst to improve the process of making these plastics

As Professor Matthew Davidson, Whorrod Professor of Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath and Director of the University’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, explains: “PLA can be made up of two types of building blocks that are mirror-images of each other. Using the current technology, when the plastic is made with both types present they are jumbled together within the structure of the plastic.”

The joint British-Israeli project new project is looking to improve the properties of PLA by developing a selective catalyst that will build up a polymer of ‘left-handed’ and ‘right-handed’ building blocks in a structured order, making the resultant plastic stronger and more heat-resistant. The team says such catalysts are the key to providing renewable and biodegradable plastics that will help reduce society’s reliance on oil.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
Tags
Post a Comment

Login with your gizmag account:

Or Login with Facebook:


Related Articles

Just enter your friends and your email address into the form below

For multiple addresses, separate each with a comma




Privacy is safe with us because we have a strict privacy policy.

Looking for something? Search our 26,540 articles