Plastic Made of Pine Tree ResidueChuck Heschmeyer | February 01, 2017
Researchers in the UK have developed a renewable plastic from a chemical produced by pine trees.
The chemical, called pinene from the terpene family, is what gives pine trees their distinctive pine smell, and is a waste product from the paper industry.
Researchers say the pinene-based plastic could be used in a range of applications from food packaging to medical implants.
Degradable polyesters, such as (polylactic acid, or PLA) are made from crops such as corn or sugar cane. But typically, PLA is mixed with a caprolactone, a petroleum-based polymer, to make it more flexible. Therefore, many PLA-based plastics are not considered sustainable or renewable.
Researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath used pinene, which is found in pine needles, as the raw material in place of caprolactone. Their findings could result in creation of a new, renewable type of plastic.
The CSCT project is part of a larger research effort into convert terpenes into chemical raw materials, as explained in this video. Terpenes are an abundant organic compound found in pine, citrus and various essential oils and are most commonly used in flavors and fragrances.
The Bath University research is still in the early stages of laboratory development, but the aim is to scale up the process to produce larger quantities of the pinene-based polymer.