Chemists report biorenewable, biodegradable plastic alternative

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Colorado State University polymer chemists have taken another step toward a future of high-performance, biorenewable, biodegradable plastics.

Publishing in Nature Communications, the team led by Professor of Chemistry Eugene Chen describes synthesis of a polymer called bacterial poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) – or P3HB. The compound shows early promise as a substitute for petroleum plastics in major industrial uses.

P3HB is a biomaterial, typically produced by bacteria, algae and other microorganisms, and is used in some biomedical . Its high production costs and limited volumes render the material impractical in more widespread commodity applications, however.

The team, which includes the paper's first author and research scientist Xiaoyan Tang, used a starting material called succinate, an ester form of succinic acid. This acid is produced via fermentation of glucose and is first on the U.S. Department of Energy's list of top 12 biomass-derived compounds best positioned to replace petroleum-derived chemicals.

The researchers' new route produces P3HB that's similar in performance to bacterial P3HB, but their route is faster and offers potential for larger-scale, cost-effective production for commodity plastic applications. This new route is enabled by a class of powerful new catalysts they have designed and synthesized. They have filed a provisional patent through CSU Ventures for the new technology.

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More information: Xiaoyan Tang et al. Chemical synthesis of perfectly isotactic and high melting bacterial poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) from bio-sourced racemic cyclic diolide, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04734-3
Journal information: Nature Communications

Citation: Chemists report biorenewable, biodegradable plastic alternative (2018, June 22) retrieved 22 September 2019 from
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Jun 22, 2018
PHB seems to be very similiar to PP but it's degraded by both acids and bases, and it's oxygen permeable so it's not very useful for food packaging.

Jun 23, 2018
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Jun 23, 2018
cellophane is still the best material for biodegradable food packaging

Cellophane itself isn't a perfect food packaging material for all uses because it readily passes water vapor. It needs to be coated with another plastic to keep moisture in or out. It's these mixed plastic products that prove the most difficult to recycle because the original polymer cannot be recovered.

Jun 23, 2018
Doesn't anyone care? That what is important to the consumer is pretty packaging! With bright colors and recognizable celebrity faces as endorsements.

Jeez! Get a clue about the public's priorities.

Jun 23, 2018
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Jun 24, 2018
The best usage the plastic waste can get is the filler of pavement and similar low profile stuffs

You can boil it down into a sort of oil-substitute for lubricants and precursor chemicals for other petrochemical products, gasify it into syngas etc. but that requires separation so you don't end up with fluorine and chlorine etc. in the mix.

Cling wrap for example is made out of PVC or LDPE, and you can't see the difference so they both end up in the same pile. One is recyclable, the other contains chlorine.

Jun 24, 2018
because the original polymer cannot be recovered
The recycling of plastic actually doesn't work - both economically, both technologically (https://www.nytim...s.html). The best usage the plastic waste can get is the filler of pavement and similar low profile stuffs. But usually they just end at incineration plants or simply dump sites like any other communal waste.

OR it gets recycled into fresh plastic supermarket shopping bags. This is why the recycling boxes at the supermarket will request CLEAN plastic store bags so that they can be recycled for much less cost.

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