Plastic in the post-oil age

Nowadays most plastic made of petroleum (better known as “oil”), but as oil is becoming increasingly scarce alternative sources for the production of plastic is needed. Scientists have succeeded in producing a biodegradable plastic from sugar and carbon dioxide.

That sugar can be used as a feedstock for the production of plastic, until recently it required a toxic agent. However, a recent breakthrough enables to production of plastic without the use of toxic agents. Additionally this new process works at low pressure and at room temperature.

There are many sources of sugar, from sugar canes to sugar beets. However, there are many alternative sources for sugar. Plants consist primarily of cellulose, essentially a long chain of sugar molecules. These chains could be broken down into smaller sugar molecules, a process currently investigated for the production of ethanol.

As cellulose could be obtained from virtually every plant material, so agricultural waste could be used for the production of plastic. This approach has a few advantages. First of all, it avoids the whole “food-versus” controversy and secondly it increases the ability of farmers to earn a living, as waste material has now economic value.

The new generation of sugar-based biodegradable plastics will naturally break down to sugar and carbon dioxide and from there the cycle could start again. Even without such recycling, these new bioplastics will not contribute to the pollution caused by current plastics.