Industry-ready process makes plastics chemical from plant sugars

phys.org | 1/19/2018 | Staff
shankay (Posted by) Level 3
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Developing renewable, plant-based alternatives for petroleum-derived chemicals is a major piece of the effort to transition away from a fossil-fuel based economy toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly bio-based economy. But integration of novel and unproven technology into existing industrial systems carries an element of risk that has made commercialization of such advances a significant challenge.

In new research, published recently in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, a team from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the University of Wisconsin-Madison describe an efficient and economically feasible process for producing HMF—5-hydroxymethylfurfural, a versatile plant-derived chemical considered crucial for building a renewable economy.

Process - Infrastructure - Corn - Syrup - Industry

What's more, the process is simple and compatible with the existing infrastructure in the high fructose corn syrup industry, the researchers show.

"We integrated into a current process to reduce the initial risk quite a bit and decrease the initial capital required to put things on the ground to prove the technology," says Ali Hussain Motagamwala, who led the project while a UW-Madison graduate student in chemical and biological engineering.

HMF - Range - Chemicals - Plastics - Fuels

HMF can be used to make a wide range of chemicals, plastics and fuels. It is an appealing candidate for commercialization in part because there is already an established market for many of the products made with HMF. One is a fully plant-derived version of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the common plastic used to make beverage bottles and other food packaging. For example, Coca-Cola, Danone, and BASF have already invested in the production of furandicarboxylic acid, an HMF-derived chemical used to make 100 percent bio-based plastic bottles.

To date, however, HMF's use has been limited by its high production cost. Bio-based plastics are currently more expensive than their petroleum counterparts, largely due to the scale of the existing manufacturing processes.

Demand - Alternatives - Question

"There is a demand for sustainable alternatives. The question is, how cost-competitive can...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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