Polymer chemists from Colorado State University are one step closer to developing a biorenewable, biodegradable plastic — a possible alternative to the much-maligned material.

The team researched the chemical synthesis of bacterial poly(3-hydroxybutyrate), or P3HB, which is a polymer that shows considerable promise as an alternative for petroleum plastics. Already used in some biomedical applications, P3HB is a biomaterial created by bacteria, algae and other microorganisms. However, because of its high-production costs and limited quantities, the material isn’t suitable for most applications.

As such, the chemists used succinate — which is an ester form of succinic acid — as a starting material. The acid, which is created through a glucose fermentation process, tops the list of the U.S. Department of Energy’s biomass-derived compounds with the best potential for replacing petroleum-derived chemicals.

Using a new method that incorporates powerful new catalysts designed and synthesized by the chemists, the team was able to produce P3HB that mimics the performance of bacterial P3HB, but that is both quicker and cheaper to produce, making it ideal for larger-scale plastic applications.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com