Chemistry graduate student Aanindeeta Banerjee and Assistant Professor Matthew Kanan
have developed a novel way to make renewable plastic from carbon dioxide and ordinary plants
(March 10, 2016) The new technology could provide a green alternative to petroleum-based plastic bottles and other polyester products.
Stanford scientists have discovered a novel way to make plastic from carbon dioxide (CO2) and inedible plant material, such as agricultural waste and grasses. Researchers say the new technology could provide a low-carbon alternative to plastic bottles and other items currently made from petroleum.
"Our goal is to replace petroleum-derived products with plastic made from CO2," said Matthew Kanan, an assistant professor of chemistry at Stanford. "If you could do that without using a lot of non-renewable energy, you could dramatically lower the carbon footprint of the plastics industry."
Kanan and his Stanford colleagues described their results in the March 9 online edition of the journal Nature.
Changing the plastic formula
Many plastic products today are made from a polymer called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), also known as polyester. Worldwide, about 50 million tons of PET are produced each year for items such as fabrics, electronics, recyclable beverage containers and personal-care products.
PET is made from two components, terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, which are derived from refined petroleum and natural gas. Manufacturing PET produces significant amounts of CO2, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
"The use of fossil-fuel feedstocks, combined with the energy required to manufacture PET, generates more than four tons of CO2 for every ton of PET that's produced," Kanan said.
For the Nature study, he and his collaborators focused on a promising alternative to PET called polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF). PEF is made from ethylene glycol and a compound called 2-5-Furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA).