Utrecht researchers make plastic from biomass

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UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS (Feb. 21, 11:30 a.m. ET) — It is now possible to economically produce plastics from biomass, thanks to a new type of catalyst developed by chemists at Utrecht University.

“The products are exactly the same [as petroleum-based ones], only they are made of pruning waste instead,” said Krijn de Jong, the head researcher on the project, according to a news release from the Utrecht-based school.

The invention has already sparked the interest of the chemical industry, he added. De Jong is a professor of inorganic chemistry and catalysts.

“Until recently, there were too many steps involved in the [biomass] process, so the technology was not efficient or economical enough to be used on a large scale,” added de Jong.

“Industry will be able to utilize this technology to make bioplastics, biopaints and even biopharmaceuticals. The properties of these products are the same, despite the fact that the raw material is biomass instead of petroleum. The bioplastics are totally identical to regular plastics.

“In light of the imminent oil shortage, using sustainable raw materials is an extremely attractive option for industry,” de Jong said in the news release. “One major advantage of the method is that the raw materials are sustainable, but do not compete with the food supply, because they consist of wood-like biomass, such as branches, plant stalks and pruning waste.”

The petroleum-free products are made using a catalyst consisting of iron nanoparticles measuring 0.00002 millimeters. The technology was developed in cooperation with Dow Benelux and Delft University of Technology.