Plastics from Plants?

July/August 2016

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It takes tens of millions of gallons of oil to make the plastic bottles that Americans swig from each year. But Stanford research shows such plastics could be made from a mix of inedible plant matter—like grasses and harvest leftovers—and carbon dioxide, thus reducing the bottles’ environmental damage. 

The new technique uses molten cesium to cause the biomass to react with CO2, an abundant but usually unreactive resource, to cleanly create FDCA, a key compound in making a “greener” plastic suitable for bottling. 

The process also has potential to reduce greenhouse emissions because the CO2 could be captured, says Matthew Kanan, an assistant professor of chemistry, whose lab performed the work. “If you could do that without using a lot of nonrenewable energy, you could dramatically lower the carbon footprint of the plastics industry.” 

We’d drink to that.

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