YORK, ENGLAND (Sept. 15, 1:30 p.m. ET) — Orange peel could be used to make biobased plastics commercially within two years, according to scientists behind a breakthrough discovery at the University of York.
Scientists say they can break down peel into simple monomers that can be used to make plastics and that there is no reason why the technology could not be in wide use soon.
The research team subjected orange peel to microwaves to extract the hydrocarbon limonene found within it. Limonene is used as a degreasing agent in industry and is commonly found in household products such as washing-up liquid and fabric detergent.
However, the scientists found that the process also caused the limonene to break down into monomers that could be used to make biobased plastics.
James Clark, professor of chemistry and director of the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York, said these could be used to make plastic structures and replace, for example, PET.
He added: “Orange is very interesting because there is a huge amount of it and the chemicals in it are quite simple and that is unusual in that it has a large amount of a single molecule – limonene. Every time you do the washing up there's a good chance you are using limonene.”
The university is currently building a biorenewables development center, which will be taking the discovery forward and proving the theory on a larger scale. It will operate the process at a rate of tens of kilograms per hour.
Clark added: “At that scale you can show industry that it is feasible. By the end of the year these will be operating. There are plenty of companies around making the microwave equipment and there is a plentiful supply of oranges around. I am kind of hoping that by next year industry will start picking up on this.
“I would be disappointed if in two or three years time industry wasn't taking this forward.”