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Current Affairs

Plastic from sugarcane and captured CO2

Date: 07 June 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

A study has demonstrated a new method for making plastics from sugarcane scraps and CO2, which is more durable than artificial plastics.

 

Background

Packaging is a real problem in society, causing pollution, and taking up a lot of raw materials. There is still hope for this sugarcane-based process, especially as technologies continue to evolve and innovate.

 

Details

  • The process has many steps, all that have been demonstrated before, and the end result is a plastic polymer called polyethylene furandicarboxylate, also known as PEF. This plastic is very similar to the PET used for water and soda bottles.

  • Since every step in the process has been done before, the study focuses on a life cycle analysis of the manufacturing process to compare exactly how this PEF method stacks up against the competition.

  • The process could start with something like the leftover plant material from sugarcane pressing. After a few reaction steps, which include the addition of some captured CO2 and some ethylene glycol produced from corn plants, you end up with a plastic polymer called polyethylene furandicarboxylate, otherwise known as PEF.

  • One area where the new process really shines is in the production of greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to the manufacturing of PET, PEF emits about one-third fewer greenhouse gases, and that is with the electricity required coming from natural gas. 

  • And if you opt for processes that use food sugars rather than leftover plant material, you can even decrease the emissions further.

  • One drawback is that this PEF process costs more to produce than PET. The study estimates PEF production amounts to about $2,400 per ton, while conventional PET is produced for a mere $1,800 per ton.