Science and the chemical industry are spending tremendous research resources to discover and perfect effective bio-based alternatives to petroleum raw materials. They’ve achieved some notable scientific breakthroughs, including bio processes to make ethanol and other alcohols, for motor fuels and as ingredients in paints, cleaners, inks and plastics. Now, a new discovery at University of Massachusetts Amherst may someday lead to a practical bio- alternative to one of the world’s largest volume consumer plastics.
PET is among the world’s most widely used plastics materials. Each year, chemical factories churn out tens of Billions of pounds PET, which is made into a broad variety of everyday objects – polyester fabric and clothing, plastic soft drink bottles, rigid plastic automobile parts and precision connectors for computer electronics, thin films for food packaging, photography and kids’ balloons.
At the heart of the process for making PET is the raw material, para-xylene (P-X). Up to now, all P-X has been derived from petroleum raw materials, but scientists at University of Massachusetts Amherst claim to have invented an efficient route to make P-X from glucose, a simple sugar that can be derived from a variety of bio-mass sources.
A healthy dose of caution, however — Don’t bet the farm or the kids’ college funds on bio-PET displacing the petro version any time soon. While the lab work shows an exciting promise, achieving economics to compete with conventional P-X, one of the least expensive petrochemical raw materials, will be a tall order.
For more, see:
High-Yield Path to Making Key Ingredient for Plastic, Xylene, from Biomass
ScienceDaily (Apr. 30, 2012)