Discovered Renewable Plastic Precursor Could Boost Cellulosic Biofuel Industry

A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison has found a way to produce a compound used in plastic production from plant biomass. They estimate that this could lower the cost of ethanol produced from plant material.

The researchers report a new chemical pathway used to produce 1,5-pentanediol, a plastic precursor primarily used to make polyurethanes and polyester plastics. The team's approach is much cheaper than a previous method, and is the first economically-viable way of producing 1,5-pentanediol from biomass.  Plant biomass is typically about 40 percent oxygen by weight, while petroleum oil is less than 0.1 percent oxygen. In the process, the oxygen already inherent in the biomass is used to produce high value oxygenated commodity chemicals that can be used to make performance polymer materials such as polyurethanes and polyesters.

The study's newly discovered pathway for chemical production could also be applicable to a wide range of products, as the same pathway could be used to produce two other plastic precursors, 1,4 butanediol and 1,6-hexanediol, which are both currently derived from petroleum.

The team will continue to refine their work, aiming to scale their process up to pilot plant testing.


This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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