When life gives you lemons, make bioplastics

July 17, 2017, Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ)
Limonene may be the key to new, environmentally friendly polymers. Credit: Public domain

From your phone case to airplane windows, polycarbonates are everywhere. Several million tons of polycarbonate are produced every year around the world. However, worries about the dangers of this material are increasing because of the toxicity of its precursors, especially bisphenol-A, a potential carcinogen.

Now, a team of chemists led by Arjan Kleij, ICIQ group leader and ICREA professor, have developed a method to produce polycarbonates from limonene and CO2, both abundant natural products. Limonene can replace a dangerous compound currently used in commercial polycarbonates—bisphenol-A (BPA). Although BPA has been repeatedly classified as a safe chemical by American and European agencies, some studies conclude that it is a potential endocrine disruptor, neurotoxin, and carcinogen. Some countries, including France, Denmark and Turkey, have banned the use of BPA in the production of baby bottles.

'BPA is safe, but still causes concerns and is produced from petroleum feedstock,' Kleij points out. 'Our approach replaces it with limonene, which can be isolated from lemons and oranges, giving us a much greener, more sustainable alternative,' he says. Because fully replacing BPA for limonene is complicated, Kleij explains that BPA is difficult to replace. 'We can start adding small quantities of limonene, then progressively substituting BPA,' he says. 'Step by step, the adaptation process could lead to new limonene-derived biomaterials with similar, or even enhanced and novel properties.'

Prof. Arjan Kleij is in his lab at ICIQ in Tarragona. Credit: ICIQ

The researchers not only succeeded in producing a more environmentally friendly , they also managed to improve its thermal properties. This limonene-derived polymer has the highest ever reported for a . 'We were quite surprised to find this, because known bio-plastics have worse thermal properties than classic polymers,' explains Kleij. 'We were at first sceptical about these findings, but we were able to reproduce these features consistently.' Having a high glass transition temperature has other implications. The new plastics require higher temperatures to melt, which make them safer for everyday use. Moreover, this new polymer also offers many new applications for polycarbonates and block copolymers using appropriate material formulations.

Kleij and co-workers are currently negotiating with plastic producers to further advance the industrial manufacture of limonene-derived biomaterials.

Explore further: Scientists make plastic from sugar and carbon dioxide

More information: Nicole Kindermann et al, Access to Biorenewable Polycarbonates with Unusual Glass-Transition Temperature (Tg) Modulation, ACS Catalysis (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.7b00770

Related Stories

Scientists make plastic from sugar and carbon dioxide

June 13, 2017

Some biodegradable plastics could in the future be made using sugar and carbon dioxide, replacing unsustainable plastics made from crude oil, following research by scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies ...

Creating a reduced-fat chocolate that melts in your mouth

April 27, 2016

Chocolate is divinely delicious, mouthwateringly smooth and unfortunately full of fat. But reducing the fat content of the confection makes it harder and less likely to melt in your mouth. That's why scientists are investigating ...

Plastics made from oranges

January 17, 2005

A Cornell University research group has made a sweet and environmentally beneficial discovery -- how to make plastics from citrus fruits, such as oranges, and carbon dioxide. In a paper published in a recent issue of the ...

How orange peel could replace crude oil in plastics

September 16, 2015

Orange juice, both delicious and nutritious, is enjoyed by millions of people across the world every day. However, new research indicates that it could have potential far beyond the breakfast table. The chemicals in orange ...

Recommended for you

New theory shows how strain makes for better catalysts

April 20, 2018

Brown University researchers have developed a new theory to explain why stretching or compressing metal catalysts can make them perform better. The theory, described in the journal Nature Catalysis, could open new design ...

Machine-learning software predicts behavior of bacteria

April 19, 2018

In a first for machine-learning algorithms, a new piece of software developed at Caltech can predict behavior of bacteria by reading the content of a gene. The breakthrough could have significant implications for our understanding ...

Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

April 19, 2018

UConn researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

GLUT5 fluorescent probe fingerprints cancer cells

April 19, 2018

Determining the presence of cancer, as well as its type and malignancy, is a stressful process for patients that can take up to two weeks to get a diagnosis. With a new bit of technology—a sugar-transporting biosensor—researchers ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.