Sugarcane bagasse may replace oil in plastic production

Research is being conducted at the São Carlos Chemistry Institute

Published in 31/01/2020 - 13:11 By Daniel Mello - São Paulo

The University of São Paulo (USP) has created a composite out of sugarcane bagasse that may replace oil in the production of plastic. The research is signed by Professor Antonio Burtoloso with the São Paulo Chemistry Institute. “We built an interesting molecule, a polyol, which is used to make certain types of plastic,” the scientist explained.

The substance, Burtoloso said, is like the one used to manufacture types of plastic used in dashboards and some sorts of hard foam. In order to test usage possibilities, however, the expert is seeking partnerships with the industry. “It’s a rather incipient work. I’ve been attempting to forge partnerships for the construction of this kind of material,” he said.

The initiative seeks alternatives to oil in the manufacture of this type of material. “Instead of building molecules from carbon sources that are not renewable—as is the case today, where nearly a hundred percent comes from oil—we used another carbon source, which is biomass,” he pointed out, regarding the goals of his research. The results were published in British journal Green Chemistry.

The raw material studied in the research can be found in large amounts in the country. According to a 2017 study by the Agricultural Economy Institute, mentioned by the professor, Brazil generated some 166 million tons of sugarcane bagasse in its 2015/16 harvest.

A long development period is necessary so that the molecule may reach the market in the form of finished materials. “I don’t see it becoming a product ready for consumers in less than five years,” he argued.

Only after industrial testing will it be possible to estimate large-scale production costs of by-products based on the new molecule or the time for these items to decompose after disposal. “Once we’re able to show this material is valid as a replacement for current types of plastic, we have to conduct all of the study on degradation,” he said, when talking about the stages of the process.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Fernando Fraga

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