Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Turning pine sap into 'ever-green' plastics

Date:
February 20, 2013
Source:
University of South Carolina
Summary:
Scientists are developing new plastics that are “green” from the cradle to the grave. Given that the new polymers they are working on often come from pine trees, firs and other conifers, they are giving the word “evergreen” added resonance.

A drop of pine resin.
Credit: Mariusz Prusaczyk / Fotolia

Plastic bags are a bane of nature. And not just bags -- just about all plastics, really. Most are made out of petroleum, and a piece of plastic, if it misses the recycling bin and ends up in a landfill, will probably outlast human civilization.

But Chuanbing Tang at the University of South Carolina is developing new plastics that are "green" from the cradle to the grave. Given that the new polymers he's working on often come from pine trees, firs and other conifers, he's giving the word "evergreen" added resonance.

Rather than tapping a barrel of oil to obtain starting materials, Tang's research group instead begins with the natural resins found in trees, especially evergreens. The rosin and turpentine derived from their wood is rich in hydrocarbons, similar but not identical to some components of petroleum.

Hydrocarbon-rich starting materials, whether from petroleum or tree resin, can be converted into various forms of what are commonly termed "plastics" through polymerization. With petroleum derivatives, scientists have invested more than a hundred years of research into refining the polymer chemistry involved, and their success in that endeavor is evident in the range of plastics now part of common parlance, such as Plexiglas, polycarbonate and PVC.

But processes for developing plastics from renewable sources, such as rosin and turpentine, are not nearly as developed. "Renewable polymers currently suffer from inferior performance in comparison to those derived from petroleum," Tang said.

His laboratory is a national leader in helping change that situation. Tang just received a National Science Foundation CAREER award to further develop the polymer chemistry he has been refining since he arrived as a chemistry professor in USC's College of Arts and Sciences in 2009. The award from NSF's Division of Materials Research will support Tang's laboratory through 2018.

"The aim is to understand how the macromolecular compositions and architectures dictate the properties of the materials we make," Tang said. "If we can establish clear structure-property relationships, we will be able to achieve the kinds of results we now get from polymers made from petroleum."

According to Tang, molecules derived from wood products are particularly worthwhile targets. "They're a rich source of the cycloaliphatic and aromatic structures that make good materials after polymerization," he said. "They have the rigid molecular structures and hydrophobicity that materials scientists know work well."

They also have an advantage at the end of their life cycle. By virtue of being a direct product of biology, the renewable starting materials are a familiar sight for the microbes responsible for biodegradation. "Most plastics from non-renewable resources are generally not biodegradable," Tang said. "With a polymer framework derived from renewable sources, we're able to make materials that should break down more readily in the environment."

Together with graduate student Perry Wilbon, Tang worked with Fuxiang Chu of the Chinese Academy of Forestry to prepare the first comprehensive review of terpenes, terpenoids, and rosin, three components of tree resin (and other natural products as well) that are plentiful sources of cycloaliphatic and aromatic structures. Published as the cover article in Wiley's Macromolecular Rapid Communications in January 2013, the review is a blueprint for just one approach that Tang is taking to develop sustainable polymers from the greenest of sources.

This research was supported in part by an NSF CAREER award (1252611).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of South Carolina. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Perry A. Wilbon, Fuxiang Chu, Chuanbing Tang. Progress in Renewable Polymers from Natural Terpenes, Terpenoids, and Rosin. Macromolecular Rapid Communications, 2013; 34 (1): 8 DOI: 10.1002/marc.201200513

Cite This Page:

University of South Carolina. "Turning pine sap into 'ever-green' plastics." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130220170631.htm>.
University of South Carolina. (2013, February 20). Turning pine sap into 'ever-green' plastics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130220170631.htm
University of South Carolina. "Turning pine sap into 'ever-green' plastics." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130220170631.htm (accessed April 25, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Friday, April 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Next Stop America for France's TGV?

Next Stop America for France's TGV?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 24, 2014) General Electric keeps quiet on reports it's in talks to buy French turbine and train maker Alstom. Ivor Bennett reports on what could be an embarrassing rumour for the French government, with business-friendly reforms proving a hard sell. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Obama Plays Soccer With Japanese Robot

Raw: Obama Plays Soccer With Japanese Robot

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) President Obama briefly played soccer with a robot during his visit to Japan on Thursday. The President has been emphasizing technology along with security concerns during his visit. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama Encourages Japanese Student-Scientists

Obama Encourages Japanese Student-Scientists

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) President Obama spoke with student innovators in Japan and urged them to take part in increased opportunities for student exchanges with the US. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

AFP (Apr. 23, 2014) The UN mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) led a mine clearance demonstration on Wednesday in the UN-controlled buffer zone where demining operations are being conducted near the Cypriot village of Mammari. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins