Tag Archives: plastics

No more butts: biodegradable filters a step to boot litter problem.


Robertson, R, W Thomas, J Suthar and D Brown. 2012.  Accelerated degradation of cellulose acetate cigarette filters using controlled-release acid catalysis. Green Chemistry http://ds.doil.org/10.1039/C2GC16635F.


Synopsis by Marty Mulvihill and Wendy Hessler, Aug 14, 2012


Every year over 6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured globally. Approximately 99 percent have a filter tip. After the cigarette is smoked, the used filter is called a butt and is thrown out. When littered, cigarette butts often take years to break down.

Most filters are made using cellulose acetate fibers. More than 2 billion pounds of cellulose acetate is produced every year to meet the world demand for filters. To make it, acetic anhydride is added to cellulose fibers made from wood or cotton. The reaction creates a type of plastic that provides a stronger, more rigid filter.

By itself, cellulose fibers degrade naturally in the environment. Cellulose acetate plastic degrades very slowly.

The slow degradation, along with indoor smoking bans, mean increasingly large numbers of cigarette butts are found in public places, including parking lots, parks and beaches every year. Cigarette waste is the number one reported item collected during beach clean-ups, according to the Ocean Conservancy. In some coastal towns as many as 1 in 10 cigarette butts end up polluting the waterways.

The discarded butts are more than just an eyesore. The filters contain chemical residue from the tobacco. The residue can be toxic to marine animals. Cigarette butts are commonly found in the stomachs of dead shore birds.

One way to decrease the litter would be to create cigarette filters that degrade quickly. Previous attempts used plant-based products like cornstarch, hemp, flax or cotton. One brand of biodegradable filter, Greenbutts, incorporates plant seeds that would germinate after disposal. To date, cigarette manufacturers have not widely adopted alternative filters.

The demand for degradable filters may increase as states – including New York – consider levying taxes on non-biodegradable cigarette filters. In response, there is renewed interest to make cigarette filters degrade faster.

What did they do?

A group of chemists wondered if a cellulose acetate plastic filter could be converted back into natural, degradable cellulose after it was used. If so, the cigarette butts should degrade much more quickly.

They guessed that small amounts of acid added to the filter should speed the degradation process.

First, they measured the degradation rate of cellulose acetate using a wide range of acids with different strengths. Combinations of acids were also tested to find which worked best to make cigarette filters that retained their structure and function while degrading faster.

Next, they created an effective additive based on which acids worked best. The additive needed to be acidic, non-toxic and allow the cigarette to burn normally. To find one, they looked to acids common in food, including citric acid, phytic acid and vitamin C (ascorbic acid), as well as stronger mineral acids not commonly considered safe food additives.

The new filter design was tested. A smoking machine “smoked” the cigarettes, and the butts were left outside and monitored.

What did they find?

In the first tests, the butts exposed to water and a small amount of acid broke down faster than those not exposed to acid. Strong acids worked best to efficiently speed the degradation of the cellulose acetate fibers. In particular they found that sulfuric acid was the most effective catalyst.

Sulfuric acid, however, is not safe to put into cigarette filters. The researchers devised a way to generate the stronger acid only after the cigarette was smoked. The smoker would not be exposed to any additional harmful compounds, and the filter would degrade more quickly.

To make the acid additive, the researchers combined safer chemicals – cellulose sulfate, citric acid and phytic acid – into a tablet. When the tablet got wet, these ingredients mixed and released small amounts of sulfuric acid that degraded the filter material. The tablets were coated with ethyl cellulose and cellulose acetate to shield the acid precursors from premature exposure to water.

After 14 days outside, the butts containing the acid tablet were more acidic and tested positive for the presence of sulfuric acid, while the control butts remained unchanged. At the end of the 90-day trial, the new filters were considerably more degraded than the controls. Unfortunately they had not degraded as much as expected based on the laboratory experiments.

What does it mean?

Small amounts of strong acid increase the degradation rate of the cellulose acetate fibers found in cigarette butts. Although the idea worked in principle, the outside trials did not live up to the promise of the laboratory results.

The research is important because it is a step towards making a truly degradable and functional cigarette filter. This research shows how green chemistry can improve existing technology. The researchers designed the new filters for degradation while making safer chemical choices. This approach will ultimately minimize waste and hopefully prevent some of the toxic exposures to birds and other wildlife.

Under laboratory conditions, the acid converted the filter plastic into a biodegradable material within 30 to 60 days, depending on temperature. The food grade acids and materials generated the strong acid only after the cigarette had been smoked. These preliminary results indicate that acidic additive in the filter could reduce the time it takes for cigarette butts to degrade in the environment.

Several problems will need to be resolved before large manufacturers could adopt the use of acid tablets in cigarette filters. The filter’s effectiveness – improved degradation and materials safety of materials – will need to be quantified in clinical and environmental trials. This will take more research to design and incorporate the acid precursors into the filter body.

Cost and performance are also issues. The acid materials must be incorporated into cigarettes at a low cost without harming the performance of the product.

Researchers will llkely pursue this technology as well as other approaches to a biodegradable cigarette filter in an effort to reduce cigarette butt litter.


Clean Virginia Waterways and Longwood University. 2012. Cigarette butt litter. http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/cigarettelitterhome.html.

Novotny, T, K Lum, E Smith, V Wang, and R Barnes. 2009. Cigarettes butts and the case for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph6051691.

Ocean Conservancy. A rising tide of ocean debris, International Coastal Clean-up 2009 Report. http://www.oceanconservancy.org/pdf/A_Rising_Tide_full_lowres.pdf.

Register, K. 2000. Cigarette butts as litter: Toxic as well as ugly. Underwater Naturalist: Bulletin of the American Littoral Society http://www.longwood.edu/CLEANVA/ciglitterarticle.htm.

Etzkorn solo photo

Green Chemistry at Virginia Tech Part III

For my third and final interview in the Virginia Tech series, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Felicia Etzkorn (pictured left), pioneer of the green chemistry course at Virginia Tech. The green chemistry course was her idea back in 2003. She and her colleague, Dr. Tim Long, decided to team-teach it just for fun. A couple of years later Dr. Etzkorn decided she was going to approach it more seriously. As a result, she had to write a course proposal for Virginia Tech’s course catalogue. The course was approved by three different curriculum committee levels. Afterwards, she developed course material and lectures, and taught the class for three years, from 2007 – 2009. She is excited to be teaching it again this Spring 2012.


Dr. Etzkorn also applies her passion for green chemistry to the local Blacksburg community. She designed a green science experiment for middle school students. Under the program, she brings the students into one of the labs at Virginia Tech to let them make their own polymer of lactic acid. The procedure allows them to make polylactic acid derived from soybeans, similar to a process used for biodegradable plastic containers for salads.



The students got a chance to come to Tech and get to do the experiment using solvent free polymerization and a non-toxic catalyst. First they had to stir and heat the mixture to get the polymer following lab procedures. Then the students made small toys by pouring polymer into clay molds they made in art class (pictured right – the brown items: shells, lips et.c are the PLA polymer, the grey figures are clay molds.). Since it does biodegrade the students were even encouraged to compost it. They were really enthusiastic about green chemistry.



Dr. Etzkorn also studies neural tube defects in mice with Dr. Hrubec, her collaborator. In the experiments, the control mice start getting neural tube disorder at a shocking rate of 20%, leading to many control experiments to see what was causing it. One suspect turned out to be from our every day tap water: epilepsy and bipolar disorder medication Cardamazepine. Dr. Etzkorn explains: “We cannot get any water that doesn’t have it to some extent and the mice are very sensitive to these agents.” The second suspect is a quaternary ammonium compound used to sanitize the lab. More experiments have yet to be conducted to determine the culprit.


AGC congratulates the diverse work that Dr. Etzkorn does with green chemistry and environmental health sciences and wishes her success in the future.



Polymer Clay Jewelry Chemistry

This interview was inspired by my latest infatuation with my etsy shop. My inspiration for starting an ‘store’ on etsy was Inedible Jewelry. They are a polymer clay jewelry business in the lovely city of Charlottesville, making replicas of everyday foods with PVC. The ladies of Inedible Jewelry, Jessica and Susan Partain, are at our local farmer’s market every weekend selling their latest miniature creations.  Taking the opportunity to see their studio and learn more about the chemistry behind polymer clay, I set up an interview with Jessica Partain in her workshop (see picture to left).

I interrupted her in the middle of placing holiday orders, in her studio filled with doll-house sized desserts, drinks, fruits, vegetables, etc. The main material used to make these bit-sized creations is PVC.  I started the interview asking about the chemical concerns with PVC over the past decade. Jessica explained: “While the formulation of PVC itself has not changed, both of the polymer clays that I work with (97% Premo, 3% Sculpey, both manufactured by polyform products) were reformulated in 2008 to be phthalate-free and lead-free.” Phthalates, which are also endocrine disruptors, used to be a concern for the sculptors before the reform because baking the clay would release them, consequently allowing them to be  inhaled by the artist. Jessica also explained: The clay she uses is also ASTM certified, making the product safe. “They’ve run it past medical experts and biochemists looking specifically for potentially harmful interactions between the material and the artist.” This made me proud of my fellow medical experts and biochemists, doing good in the world.

Jessica and Susan have also always used a separate toaster in a well-ventilated room for their polymer baking, making creations such as the cupcake earrings to the right. They use a separate toaster to ensure that they would not combine their cooking with their polymer. One concern that still remains is when the clay is burnt, from baking for too long or from baking at too high a temperature – releasing toxic HCl gas.

As a loyal customer, I asked her: “What do you do with annoying customers like myself, who also ask all these difficult chemistry questions before a purchase.” She answered: “Well, you are one of two people asking me these questions in past 22 years; and the other person who asked did not have much basis for her questioning.” I felt like a major nerd at that moment – 8 years of intense science back ground can do that to you.

Although most customers do not ask about the chemistry behind polymer clay, many worry about the metals used in the jewelry. I then asked “Is this because they are worried about the toxic chemicals in metals?” That was strike two for Nerd Mana. The real reason is because many people are allergic to certain metals. To combat this problem, Inedible Jewelry uses 925 Sterling Silver for their necklaces.925 indicates the silver is 92.5% silver, and 7.5% copper. Jessica explained that the copper allows for 925 Sterling Silver to hold its shape because 100% silver is too malleable. All her metals are nickel free to avoid allergic reactions that lead to inflammation.

AGC loves the work of Inedible Jewelry and is impressed with their knowledge of chemistry and toxicology as it applies to their work. We all have a necklace with a polymer clay pendant. So far our collection includes: a peppermint, a gingerbread man, and a rainbow cake (mine!). The equally festive peach pies are pictures to the left where each miniature peach slice is crafted by hand.


Written by Mana Sassanpour


Making plastic: Use plants, not petroleum.

Miao, X, R Malacea, C Fischmeister, C Bruneau and PH Dixneuf. 2011. Ruthenium–alkylidene catalysed cross-metathesis of fatty acid derivatives with acrylonitrile and methyl acrylate: a key step toward long-chain bifunctional and amino acid compounds.Green Chemistry http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/c1gc15569e.

Synopsis by Audrey Moores, Dec 02, 2011


Researchers greatly improved the use of plant oil – instead of petroleum – as a raw material to produce high-end plastics resins.

Plant oil can be used instead of traditional oil from fossil fuels to produce highly desired specialty plastics called polyamides.

A study in the journal Green Chemistry describes how researchers in France identified the material – a metal called ruthenium – that makes this type of chemical reaction possible. This discovery expands the scope of using plant oil derivatives to make industrially-important molecules, such as those needed as starting materials for producing polyamides. Polyamides are a family of polymers with many useful applications, ranging from fibres – such as nylon – to highly resistant metal coatings. Polymers are large molecules composed of repeating units of a smaller molecule.

The bulk of plastics are made from fossil fuels. As oil supplies dwindle, there is a need to find novel, renewable sources of raw materials that can be used to make everyday products, such as plastics, detergents and drugs. Oil from plants can serve that purpose, and researchers are actively looking to use them.

In the study, researchers from Rennes proposed an improved method to turn plant oil products into high-end polymers, such as resin coatings to protect metal from corrosion. They selected two streams of renewable materials to achieve this discovery. On one end, they selected fatty acids – basically fat molecules – from castor oil gathered from the castor plant seed. On the other, they chose acrylonitrile – a compound easily accessible from glycerol, a waste product of biodiesel production.

The fatty acids and acrylonitrile are combined with an additive containing a metal called ruthenium. The specific reaction fused the acid and the nitrile part of the acrylonitrile together and created the precursors to known and novel types of polyamides. The reaction was highly efficient – much material was made for the amount of energy put in.

This reaction is difficult to perform in the laboratory because acrylonitrile tends to destroy the ruthenium additive. To overcome this obstacle, the chemists screened a large number of additives and reaction conditions – temperature, pressure, time – to find the way that provided high yields.

Researchers also made diester molecules, which are necessary in formulation processes. Formulation is the mixing of ingredients to form stable gels, creams or pastes for the cosmetic or detergent industry. This reaction is a very efficient way to access such molecules from renewable feedstock.

An often discussed problem of using plant oil to make molecules for manufacturing products is the competition between plants for food and plants for chemicals. One way around this dilemma is to reuse frying oil or get it from spent coffee beans. Another idea is to use oil from plants not used for food, such as oil from the castor plant that was used in this study.

This study proved that it is possible to use renewable feedstock to make complex molecules like polyamides. Industrial applications remain to be demonstrated, but the resarchers did optimize their chemical process with this in mind. Read more science at Environmental Health News.




On Wednesday November 9, 2011 UVA Green Chemistry hosted AGC’s Mana Sassanpour for a lecture and discussion on “What is Green Chemistry?”

Mana gave an overview of green chemistry, Paul Anastas and John Warner’s 12 principles of green chemistry, followed by a description of Advancing Green Chemistry’s involvement in the field.

Mana: “The discussion that followed after the lecture was phenomenal! Almost everyone who attended the lecture asked a question. I had never seen such an involved group of students!”

We started off discussing endocrine disrupting chemicals, for example: bisphenol A (BPA). What exposure level is safe? Really large amounts are harmful, but so are really tiny amounts  – the correlation is not linear. We proceeded to discuss how we could test compounds for toxicity if the correlation is not linear. This led to a discussion on general methods for testing for toxicity, what the current standards are and how we could do better. We discussed the ethical concerns around animal testing and other tools.

The students were curious to find out what some of the common sources of BPA exposure are, and were surprised to find out that it is found in many disposable water bottles and plastic containers. A concerned student then asked for advice on how to avoid BPA. The response was: don’t use plastic food containers – but if you do, definitely do not microwave food in them because that allows the BPA and other contaminants to leach into your food. Store food in glass jars instead.

The ladies in the crowd then opened a discussion on cosmetics. Like many, they had never considered the chemicals in their beauty products. We talked about how many chapsticks and lip balms have oxybenzone in them – a component that acts as a sunscreen but is also a carcinogen. Most girls in the room immediately reached for their chapsticks to look at ingredients. A hand darted up to ask me “My chapstick has 6% oxybenzone – should I throw it away?” From this topic we went on to discuss how many sunscreen components do not degrade and go into our rivers and affect the reproductive anatomy of frogs and fish. This then led to how effects on amphibians predict effects on humans.

Needless to say, the conversation was great – filled with great facts, questions, and laughs!

Include key green chemistry ideas when covering polymer science.

Posted by Wim Thielemans, Sep 28, 2011

A recent article in Chemical & Engineering News leaves out key points reporters should include when explaining the pitfalls for new polymers vying for market share.

A cover story in Chemical & Engineering News describes a variety of new polymers – commonly called plastics – that are vying for current market share in a crowded field. Author Alexander H. Tullo focuses on how companies are avoiding the pitfalls of previous attempts to break into markets dominated by the long-used polymers – such as polyethylene, polypropylene and nylon – that were developed prior to 1960.

The long article covers a lot of ground but misses some important aspects of materials science and green chemistry, which should also be considered.

Tullo expertly describes a variety of polymers with varying chemical properties. He clearly states the market potential of these polymers, emphasizing their improved properties. While this is obviously important, cost  – especially for bulk polymer applications – is not mentioned. Many new polymers tend to be more expensive than those currently used. Existing polymers tend to be cheaper because of economies of scale – larger volumes are cheaper to produce. Yet, producing large amounts at a reasonable price is a major hurdle for new polymers in trying to find inroads to these low-cost and high-volume applications.

The author did not specifically mention which markets would be the most receptive to the new polymers. Yet, the examples clearly show that niche, high-value and new-technology applications present the most important inroads. This is especially true where existing polymers do not do a perfect job and improvement is easily achieved.

Some final hints may help journalists to collect and report more detailed information on the environmental impact of materials. As an example, the environmental benefit of the Novomer polymer mentioned in the article is extraordinary. It is a real feat to make a polymer with 40 percent of its total weight derived from carbon dioxide (CO2), which is removed from the atmosphere to make the polymer.

Reporters, though, need to dig deeper and ask about key points to help readers better understand a product’s overall impact. For example, if a point is made about removing CO2 from the atmosphere, ask how much material needs to be made to sequester the CO2 from a single power plant’s emissions, whether there is a market for all the material and whether the chemical reaction to make the polymer could cope with the quantities and required reaction rates to keep up with CO2 supply.

If environmental benefits are mentioned, ask for life cycle analysis results. Life cycle analyses describe the start-to-finish environmental effects from making a material to disposing of the finished product. The analysis results will make it clear if a real environmental benefit exists. Also, ask whether the preparation of the material conforms to the Principles of Green Chemistry. In the case of the Novomer polymer, the use of ethylene oxide – a well-known neurotoxin – in the polymer preparation would certainly raise questions about its environmental credentials.

The article is very interesting and an enjoyable read, but is at times rather narrowly focused. I would have liked the author to more broadly question the reasons why new polymers have such a difficult time entering and expanding into the marketplace.

Read more science at Environmental Health News.


The Toxins in Baby Products (and Almost Everywhere Else)

Read original post at The Atlantic (online)

By Elizabeth Grossman

Jun 2 2011, 11:15 AM ET

Carcinogenic flame retardants were supposed to be gone by now, but, like endocrine-disrupting plasticizers, they persist

A dangerous flame retardant known as “Tris” has reappeared in products designed for babies and young children, among them car seats, changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, high chair seats, and nursing pillows. (Tris, once used in children’s sleepwear, was removed from these products in the 1970s, after it was identified as a carcinogen and a mutagen, a compound that causes genetic mutation.) Also found in these products, according to the same recent study, which appeared in Environmental Science & Technology, is another flame retardant, pentaBDE. This compound was banned in Europe in 2004, when its U.S. manufacturers voluntarily discontinued it after it was found to be environmentally persistent, bioaccumulative, and to adversely affect thyroid function and neurological development.

The study also identified new compounds whose ingredients include some of the older toxic substances—and it found all of these and other flame retardants in 80 percent of the 101 infant and children’s products tested. That these chemicals, associated with adverse health impacts including cancer and endocrine disruption, are so widespread raises serious questions about the U.S. system of chemicals management and how we evaluate product safety.

With the potential health hazards of widely used synthetic chemicals coming under increasing scrutiny, and with a growing call from medical and scientific professionals for policies that protect children from such hazards, the question of what takes the place of a threatening chemical has become increasingly important. It also prompts questions about whether it is better to substitute another chemical for the one posing problems or to redesign a product so it can achieve its desired performance, perhaps without such chemicals.

Together these flame retardants and plasticizers raise profound questions about how we think about designing new materials and the wisdom of regulating chemicals one at a time.

The brominated and chlorinated flame retardants (BFRs and CFRs) found in these children’s products offer one cautionary example. Another group of chemicals known as phthalates, used to increase the flexibility of one of the world’s most widely used plastics, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), offers another. Together, these compounds account for the vast majority of all plastics additives used worldwide.

In the case of the flame retardants used in upholstery foams, carpet backings, textiles, and hard plastic appliances and other products since the 1970s, new compounds introduced to replace the hazardous ones have in fact resembled their predecessors. The result, despite “early warnings and periodic reminders about the problematic properties of these chemicals” is a “continuing pattern of unfortunate substitution,” wrote Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, and Ake Bergman, professor of environmental chemistry at Stockholm University, in Environmental Health Perspectives in October. They were introducing a statement of concern about BFRs and CFRs signed by nearly 150 scientists from 22 countries.

While cushions and electronics can function without flame retardants, PVC cannot work without plasticizers. Phthalates—oily, colorless liquids based on benzene chemistry—have been the plasticizers of choice since PVC was commercialized in the early 20th century. Without phthalates, PVC would be brittle and of limited use. In some bendable PVC products, phthalates can make up as much as 40 to 50 percent of the finished plastic—and in 2008, nearly 540 billion pounds of PVC were produced worldwide.

Phthalates are also used in other vinyl-based products, to create thin and flexible films (they’ve been used in nail polish and other cosmetics), as lubricants (hence their use in lotions), as solvents, and to extend the life of fragrances, among many other applications. They are found in everything from food packaging to insect repellant to bath and teething toys. Some phthalates have been shown in animal studies to cause birth defects, and a number of popular phthalates have been identified as endocrine disrupters that interfere with male reproductive development. Concerned, Europe restricted use of about half a dozen phthalates in 2008, and the U.S. restricted them in products intended for use by children under age 12. Similar regulations exist elsewhere, including Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. On May 4, the French National assembly voted to ban phthalates altogether, based on concerns about endocrine disruption.

Like the BFR and CFR flame retardants, phthalates are released from the materials to which they’re added. That phthalates could migrate from PVC has been known since the 1960s, when the Air Force found that this could cause problems on spacecraft and phthalates were detected leeching from plastic tubing used in blood transfusion and dairy equipment. We can take phthalates into our bodies by breathing them, ingesting them, and by absorbing them through our skin. A study published in March of this year found that when people eliminated certain packaged foods from their diets, levels of the corresponding phthalates in their urine dropped by more than 50 percent.

So with growing concerns about phthalates and increasing restrictions on their use, a search is on for alternatives—ideally non-toxic compounds that will not migrate out of the plastics. But PVC itself, even without the phthalates, raises questions about product safety. While it may be possible to find a non-toxic plasticizer, vinyl chloride, the main ingredient of PVC chloride, is a human carcinogen that also causes liver and nerve damage. PVC also poses hazards when burned, as incomplete combustion can result in dioxins, also carcinogenic compounds. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed increasing emissions standards for plants that product PVC, citing inhalation risks to people who live in communities where these manufacturing facilities are located. There are currently 17 such plants in the U.S., mostly in Louisiana and Texas.

Together these flame retardants and plasticizers raise profound questions about how we think about designing new materials and the wisdom—from an environmental health perspective—of regulating chemicals one at a time rather than by examining their characteristics and behavior. They also point to the need to look at a product’s entire lifecycle when considering its health impacts. There are many arguments to be made about the costs and benefits of using these materials, and moving away from such widely and long-used materials presents many challenges. Yet as Paul Anastas and John Warner, often considered to be the founders of green chemistry, point out, there is no reason a molecule must be hazardous to perform a particular task. To solve the kinds of problems posed by materials like PVC, “we need to design into our technologies the consequences to human health and the environment.”

Image: mbaylor/flickr

Ford Looks to Dandelions for Natural Rubber

By Jonathan Bardelline
Published in GreenBiz.com May 11, 2011

Ford Looks to Dandelions for Natural Rubber
DEARBORN, MI — Ford continues to diversify its research into plant-based materials by turning a common weed into a replacement for synthetic rubber.

The company has already introduced soy foam and wheat straw components into its vehicles. Now, it’s looking to produce cup holders, floor mats and other parts with the help of dandelions.

Through work with Ohio State University, Ford will make and test car components created with rubber derived from the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz. OSU’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center is growing the dandelion, which produces a milky-white substance from its roots that can be turned into rubber.

Debbie Milewski, technical leader of Ford’s plastics research group, said the dandelion rubber will be used in parts that are part-plastic, part-rubber. That includes materials all over the interiors of cars like plastic trim as well as exterior parts like bumper covers. Some of those components have rubber content up to 40-50 percent.

Before dandelion-based cup holders find their way into cars, Ford will test how the rubber performs with different plastics to make sure it meets durability requirements.

“We’re going to look at a wide range of plastics and then we’ll narrow the scope from there,” Milewski said. The timeframe for getting the new rubber into vehicles depends on what issues crop up during testing. Soy foam, which is now in seats for every vehicle sold in North America, took six years of development, while the wheat straw bins went from concept to implementation in 18 months.

The dandelion-based rubber has the potential to find its way into any part that currently includes rubber, and Milewski said Ford might even try making parts completely from the natural rubber. The change would not only shift Ford away from petroleum-based synthetic rubber, but also use a plant source that can grow easily in the United States.

OSU’s research on making rubber from the Russian dandelion was a continuation of work done by a Russian university, Milewski said. Ford got involved after a local Ford car dealer near OSU, who knew about the company’s other bio-materials work, heard about the project and wrote to Executive Chairman Bill Ford about it, she said.

As part of Ford’s overall plan to make vehicles lighter and explore alternative materials, the company has also created fabrics out of recycled plastic bottles and engine cylinder head covers from recycled carpet.

Dandelions at OSU – Courtesy Ford

Hitting the Bottle.

New York Times
Published: May 8, 2011

SUDDENLY, there’s a baby boom going on around me. I’m making weekly shopping trips to stock friends’ nurseries, and I’m struck by how many signs on the shelves advertise BPA-free bottles, BPA-free sippy cups. It breaks my heart. Manufacturers might be removing BPA, a chemical used to harden certain plastics, from their products, but they are substituting chemicals that may be just as dangerous, if not more so.

Read original post here.

Greener polyurethanes start with plant-based raw materials.

Synopsis by Evan Beach Mar 10, 2011
Read more about this at The Atlantic

Helou, M, J-F Carpentier and SM Guillaume.  2010.  Poly(carbonate-urethane): an isocyanate-free procedure from a,x-di(cyclic carbonate) telechelic poly(trimethylene carbonate)s. Green Chemistry http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/c0gc00686f.

A shift to a bio-based raw material can reduce several chemical hazards associated with making one of the most popular plastics – polyurethanes – in production today, researchers report in the journal Green Chemistry. The new process means polyurethane plastic may be less hazardous to make and easier to break down in the environment.

Polyurethanes are a family of commodity plastics very commonly encountered in everyday life. They are widely used in industrial, automotive, engineering and medical applications and are found in a large range of products, including paints, foams, adhesives and coatings.

The new process for making polyurethanes focuses on one class called polycarbonate urethanes. These are found commercially in coatings and medical devices.

Almost all polyurethanes are prepared from chemicals called isocyanates. Most isocyanates are acutely toxic and pose a health risk to workers during manfacturing and to people who live in the communities surrounding the facilities.

The manufacturing of polyurethanes usually relies on toxic metal catalysts that can be released from the products into the environment. Research has shown that environmental exposures to these chemicals can lead to disruption of hormonal processes in animals.

To avoid the isocyanates and toxic catalysts, the researchers use a method that creates bonds between carbon and nitrogen atoms. Isocyanate chemistry creates carbon-oxygen links. By changing this strategy, the scientists can incorporate a variety of bio-based raw materials into the final plastic. One of their key starting materials is glycerol, a by-product of biofuels made from plant oils.

The report shows that the process leads to longer polymer chains. Longer chains offer better performance in commercial applications. The new type of polycarbonate urethanes are also biodegradable.

One potential catch in the new method is that one of the chemicals used in the process, called DCC, is itself very commonly produced from isocyanates. DCC acts as a promoter, making one of the chemical reactions easier to accomplish. However, it is very likely that other promoters could be used in its place. Replacement of DCC would be an obvious improvement for a process that aims to be isocyanate-free.

Read more about this at The Atlantic