"Green plastics" may sound like an oxymoron. But scientists have come up with a new way to convert a wide variety of vegetable and animal fats and oils — ranging from lard to waste cooking oil — into a key ingredient for making plastics that currently comes from petroleum.
In a new report on the first-of-its-kind process appears in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
, researchers said the new technique could revolutionize the production of conventional plastics, which can pose a range of environmental and public health risks.
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Lead researchers Douglas Neckers and Maria Muro-Small noted many of the plastics found in everyday products use chemical raw materials termed olefins that come from petroleum. They include ethylene, propylene, and butadiene, which are building blocks for polyethylene, polyester, polyvinyl chloride, and polystyrene. The scientists sought a more sustainable alternative source of olefins.
Their report described use of "UV-C" light — used in sanitizing wands to kill bacteria and viruses — to change lard, tallow, olive oil, canola oil, and canola cooking oil into olefins. Neckers and Muro-Small said that this is the first report on use of this photochemical process to make olefins.
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