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New sources of plastic

September 22nd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

One of the things we (consumers) take for granted is how much plastic we use. We all know plastic is made from oil (at least I hope we all know that). So I was curious to know what people were doing to figure out what to do when there is no more oil, or at least when it’s so scarce that making plastics out of it becomes no longer an option.
In an attempt to be green I’ve been trying to eliminate a lot of plastics. I don’t buy water in plastic bottles. I got a Klean Kanteen and fill it up from a filter. I use glass jugs and a metal ice cube tray. I have reusable grocery bags and don’t put produce in plastic bags. But this all adds up to a very minimal savings in plastic use. Realistically there is no way to get away from plastic in this day and age.

Inhabitat.com recently had a few pieces on new plastic technology that I hope will really take off.

First, plastic made from plant glucose. Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have discovered a way to convert glucose from plant cellulose into something called HMF (5-hydroxymethylfurfural), a basic building block for fuel and other petroleum-based chemicals. And they’ve done it in a way that doesn’t create unwanted byproducts.

Next, scientists at Genomatica Inc have developed strains of bacteria that are able to produce plastic without the use of oil or natural gas. The process uses little more than sugar and water to produce butanediol (BDO), which can be manufactured into everything from plastics and fibers to pharmaceuticals. And the best part is that they estimate that the energy-efficient process will cost less than the current hydrocarbon process within a YEAR!
plastic bacteria 1

Finally, and this is a little different than the above since the following process is about recycling plastic, not making it (but I wanted to figure out how to get all the plastic articles into one post!)… A company in DC called Environ claims it can turn plastic into an oil-like fuel for just $10/barrel and it can be blended with other components and used as either gasoline or diesel. What’s significant about this is that the company has come up with a process that results in a net GAIN of energy (82% of all material that goes in is transformed into fuel). Previous attempts at turning plastic into fuel have resulted in a net loss of energy.

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