Efforts to switch from petrochemicals to renewable and biodegradable plastics have proven challenging – the production process may require toxic chemicals and are expensive, and the mechanical strength and water stability are often insufficient. But researchers have made a breakthrough, using wood by-products, which hold promise for creating more durable and sustainable bioplastics.
A study was published in Nature SustainabilityCo-authored by Yuan Yao, Associate Professor of Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Systems at Yale School of Environment (YSE), demonstrates the process of deconstructing the porous matrix of natural wood into slurry. Researchers say the resulting material shows spike Mechanical strength, Stability when carrying liquids, and resistance to ultraviolet radiation. It can also be safely recycled or degraded in the natural environment, and it has a lower life cycle Environmental impact Compared with petroleum and other plastics Degradable plastic.
“There are many people who have tried to develop these types of polymers in PlasticBut the mechanical filaments are not good enough to replace the plastics we currently use, which are mostly made from fossil fuels, ”says Yao.“ We have developed a simple and straightforward manufacturing process that produces biomass-based plastics from wood, but also plastic. Which also provides good mechanical properties. “
To create the slurry mixture, researchers used wood powder – a processing residue typically discarded as waste in lumber plants – and dismantled the loose porous structure of the powder using a deep, highly soluble, dissolving, and recyclable (DES) solvent. The resulting mixture, which is characterized by nano-crosslinking and hydrogen bonding between the regenerated lignin and cellulosic microfibrils / nanofibers, has high stiffness and high viscosity, which can be cast and rolled without breaking.
Yao then led a comprehensive life-cycle assessment to test the environmental impacts of Bioplastic Against common plastics. Sheets of bioplastics are buried in the soil, after two weeks it breaks down and completely decomposes after three months; Additionally, the researchers say the bioplastics can be further broken down into slurries via mechanical stirring, which also allows DES recovery and reuse.
“That, to me, is what makes this plastic really good: it can all be recycled or biodegradable,” says Yao. “We have reduced all materials and waste going into nature.”
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Liangbing Hu, a professor at the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland and co-author of the paper, says bioplastics have many applications. It can be molded into a film that can be used in plastic bags and packaging – one of the main uses for plastic and the cause of waste production. Hu also says that because bioplastics can be formed into various shapes, it could be used in the automotive industry as well.
One area that the research team continues to investigate is the potential impact on forests if the scale of manufacture of this bioplastic is expanded. While the process currently uses wood by-products in manufacturing, the researchers say they are acutely aware that large-scale production may require the use of massive amounts of WoodWhich could have far-reaching impacts on forests, Land administrationEcosystems and Climate Change, to name a few.
Yao says the research team has already begun working with a forest ecologist to create forest simulations, linking the forest growth cycle with industrialization. She also sees an opportunity to collaborate with people who work in forest-related fields at YSE – which is not uncommon.
“Not often an engineer can walk down the hall and talk to the forester,” says Yao.
Source: Yale University