Biobased rigid plastics are one step closer to reality, according to a study published in Nature Communications. A team from the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands developed a simple way to overcome some of the technical difficulties to make these plastics and produce rigid polyesters that have good mechanical and thermal properties. This work enables the production of rigid biobased plastics from materials that are easily available.
Normal plastics are produced from dialcohol and diacid molecules. These compounds are bound together in a condensation reaction to form a long polymer chain of both components in an alternating fashion. The final product is a rigid, strong, and durable plastic.
For biobased plastics, researchers can use glucose-derived dialcohol isosorbide, which has a strong molecular structure and is readily available. However, this compound is particularly unreactive, and it’s challenging to produce isosorbide-based polyesters.
Researchers overcame this problem by incorporating an aryl alcohol during the polymerastion reactions. This increases reactivity during condensation and produces high molecular weight materials. This represents the first time a high molecular weight polyester can be made from dialcohol isosorbide. The resultant plastic even outperforms existing plastics like PET in terms of heat resistance. In practical terms, this means biobased plastics could be used for washing bottles at 85 °C, for example. These eco-friendly products also show other promising properties that can outperform fossil-based products.
The work was funded with several contributions from companies, including LEGO, who are looking for non-fossil alternatives for their plastic bricks.
Weinland, D.H., van der Maas, K., Wang, Y. et al. Overcoming the low reactivity of biobased, secondary diols in polyester synthesis. Nat Commun 13, 7370 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-34840-2