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Science Reading: Furanic Plastic

by Green Plastics


AZO CleanTech just published a very well-written science article about some of the science behind biofuels and biopolymer technology.  They specifically spend some time talking about the chemistry underlying “furanics”, a type of material made up of a particular type of organic compound (furan) that can be derived from sugars and other carbohydrates, but most importantly can be made from non-food sources.  They talk about this in the context of biofuels, but this article is a good read for anyone who is interested in learning about the chemistry behind bioplastics, as well.

Why? Consider this: NatureWorks and Avantium, two leaders in the field of sustainable materials, announced last year that they are starting to work together on a research project that could lead to a new type of bioplastics.  And it is based on furanics.

A little background: Avantium has been working for some time now with furanic materials.  Initially, Avantium tried to develop this material as a biofuel, but this was met with limited success.  They successfully were able to test it as an engine fuel, and even had prototype cars running on it in Brazil.  However, it is too expensive to go into wide use as fuel in motorcars (about US$1900 per metric ton), and the processing can be expensive and difficult (although Avantium has invested a lot in a special Furanic Processing Plant).

So what is the next step for this bio-material?  Since both have biopolymers as their foundation, it is only natural to make the intuitive leap from biofuel to….. bioplastic!

NatureWorks, of course, has been hugely successful in developing a wide range of end markets & products for its Ingeo(TM) biopolymer, and so is teaming up with Avantium to see what can be done with furanic material.  It is still exploratory, but of course they are optimistic:

“We believe it is incumbent on us to investigate tomorrow’s potential solutions beginning today,” said Marc Verbruggen, president and CEO of NatureWorks. “For example, development of NatureWorks Ingeo(TM) biopolymer began in the 1990s. Avantium’s work to date is impressive, and we look forward to a productive joint collaboration.”

Will this be the Next Big Thing in bioplastics?

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