Scientists have created a technology for processing lignin into plastic using light. Boston College reports.
Lignin is a complex polymeric compound that is part of the cells of vascular plants and algae. It is this that gives the wood its characteristic hardness, providing the wood’s compressive strength.
Boston College chemists have developed an approach that uses light to convert lignin into “green” plastics. “We have developed a catalyst that can selectively break certain chemical bonds in lignin when exposed to light, so that the lignin is converted into medium-sized soluble molecules called oligomers,” said Jia Niu, one of the study’s authors.
The scientists then converted the oligomers into plastic using cross-linking agents – “molecular glue”. Due to the unique chemical structure of the oligomers created by the catalyst, the plastics made in this way can be chemically broken down back into oligomers and then re-formed back into plastic by crosslinkers and so on.
The authors hope that with the help of their discovery it will be possible to create a waste-free scheme for the use of plastic, where the material can be used many times.