Dutch researchers invent a process to turn plants into plastics

Fox Van Allen

It should come as no surprise to learn that the world is over reliant on petroleum, from the gas we put in cars to the plastic bags we take groceries home in. We're still trying to figure out how to make electric cars popular, but scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands may have solved the plastic bag half of the problem, creating an innovative new process that turns plant material to plastic.

Being able to convert plants to plastic isn't new, but the ability to make the conversion cheaply and efficiently is. The new technology uses a new type of iron nanoparticle catalyst to synthesize ethylene and propylene, the basic components of most modern plastics, from plant material.

This means that just about everything we use with plastic in our daily lives, from cars to paint, could one day come from a 100% renewable source. And since the process uses waste products such as branches and grass clippings, this new method of making plastic doesn't need to compete with the food supply for acreage.

The innovation isn't all good news, however — it has its share of environmental critics. Converting biomass to plastic means you're creating a new non-biodegradable product, potentially adding to landfills if people don't recycle. Further, there's concern that companies may be tempted to raze endangered-animal-filled rainforests for the purposes of gathering more biomass and creating new fast-growing grass fields for harvest.

[via Scientific American]

[Image credit: Horia Varlan]

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Tecca