Environment

"Green" plastic made from green needles

"Green" plastic made from gree...
Scientists have produced a renewable plastic made with pinene, which is found in pine needles
Scientists have produced a renewable plastic made with pinene, which is found in pine needles
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Scientists have produced a renewable plastic made with pinene, which is found in pine needles
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Scientists have produced a renewable plastic made with pinene, which is found in pine needles

When pine trees are harvested, it's obviously the wood that people are after – the needles are simply discarded. Before too long, however, that may change. Scientists from the UK's University of Bath have recently developed a renewable plastic, made with a chemical derived from pine needles.

The chemical in question is called pinene. It's a member of the terpene family, and it's what gives pine trees their distinctive smell. The polymer that has been made from the pinene could reportedly take the place of an existing petroleum-based rubbery polymer known as caprolactone.

Currently, caprolactone is added to biodegradable polyesters such as PLA (polylactic acid), to make them more flexible. While PLA is plant-based, however, caprolactone is made from crude oil. This means that the resulting composite isn't entirely renewable. When the pinene polymer is used instead, though, it is.

So far only a few grams of the plastic have been produced, although plans are in place to scale up the production process. Ultimately, it is hoped that the material could be used for applications such as food packaging, plastic bags and medical implants.

"We're not talking about recycling old Christmas trees into plastics, but rather using a waste product from industry that would otherwise be thrown away, and turning it into something useful," says PhD student Helena Quilter. "So if we can make a plastic from sustainable sources, it could make a big difference to the environment."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Polymer Chemistry.

Source: University of Bath

4 comments
VincentWolf
Cool and much needed. Anything to reduce fossil fuel use.
Racqia Dvorak
Is it a true equivalent? What are the properties? How much energy is required to produce it in comparison. I want to get behind developments like this, but there are usually too few of answers on display.
EddieLime1ecf3b6ad79459d
Good invention. When the manufacturing process is refined and made cost-effective it will be a great contributor to mitigating climate change. The world will always need cling wrap, food packaging, bags, etc. Beyond that are the range of plastics from shoes to handbags. Science will continue to find new solutions. Well done.
80,000colors
It would be nice if it smells like pine needles too.