May 1, 2012


UMass Chemical Engineers and Collaborators Discover a High-Yield Method for Producing Everyday Plastics from Biomass

(April 30, 2012)   A team of chemical engineers led by Paul J. Dauenhauer of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered a new, high-yield method of producing the key ingredient used to make plastic bottles from biomass. The process is inexpensive and currently creates the chemical p-xylene with an efficient yield of 75-percent, using most of the biomass feedstock, Dauenhauer says. The research is published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

Dauenhauer, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst, says the new discovery shows that there is an efficient, renewable way to produce a chemical that has immediate and recognizable use for consumers. He says the plastics industry currently produces p-xylene from petroleum and that the new renewable process creates exactly the same chemical from biomass.

‘You can mix our renewable chemical with the petroleum-based material and the consumer would not be able to tell the difference," Dauenhauer says.

Consumers will already know the plastics made from this new process by the triangular recycling label "#1" on plastic containers. Xylene chemicals are used to produce a plastic called PET (or polyethylene terephthalate), which is currently used in many products including soda bottles, food packaging, synthetic fibers for clothing and even automotive parts.