Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have devised a new plastic that is made with 50 percent renewable content from biomass. The new plastic is also recyclable and tougher than ABS plastic.
ABS, which is a moldable thermoplastic polymer and whose name stands for the three components acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene components, is a common durable plastic used for many applications. Kitchen appliances, car bumpers, and ventilation pipes are all often made from ABS, since it’s light, strong and tough, but unfortunately this useful polymer is made from petroleum-derived chemicals. The researchers set out to find a new alternative that would take advantage of biomass byproducts.
Green ingredient is from biomass
The researchers made their improved thermoplastic by replacing styrene with lignin, resulting in a solvent-free production process. Lignin is plentiful and could easily come from the biomass byproduct that comes from biorefineries and pulp and paper mills. In fact, lignin is the most commercially underutilized of the main structural constituents of plants, and since biorefineries are seeking to compete with lower oil and natural gas prices, a new use for lignin is ideal.
More bioplastics ahead
Future studies will explore different feedstocks, particularly those from biorefineries, and correlations among processing conditions, material structure and performance. Investigations are also planned to study the performance of ORNL’s new thermoplastic in carbon-fiber-reinforced composites.