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NEWS
Environmentally Friendly Plastics May Be Future Reality
June 1, 2008

Every year, more than 30 billion water bottles are added to America’s landfills, creating a mountainous environmental problem. But if research at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is successful, the plastic bottles of the future could literally disappear within four months of being discarded.

The Missouri S&T research team is constructing new breeds of biodegradable and bioavailable plastics in an effort to reduce the tons of plastic waste that ends up in the nation’s landfills each year. Bioavailable plastics contain substances that can be absorbed by living systems during their normal physiological functions.

By combining and modifying a variety of bio-based, oil-based and natural polymers, the team seeks to create optimal blends that can be used in the manufacture of agricultural films, bottles, biomedical and drug delivery devices, and more.

The team is working under the direction of Dr. K.B. Lee, professor of chemical engineering at Missouri S&T, to improve the properties of the biodegradable plastics for real-life products. Although companies already sell biodegradable polymers, the products are often expensive, of poor quality or developed for specific applications. That’s why the team is investigating how bio-based fillers, such as starch and fibers, can be included to reduce the cost in a variety of commercial applications.

The group is also interested in incorporating glycerol – a major byproduct of the biodiesel process – in the new plastics. Some of the group’s new polymers incorporate renewable resources, such as polylactic acid, which is created by fermenting starch. The group is very interested in renewable resources because their research and development efforts are also focused on developing efficient and cost-effective biodiesel and corn ethanol processes.


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