A team of chemical engineers led by Paul J. Dauenhauer of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered a new, high-yield method of producing the key ingredient used to make plastic bottles from biomass. The process is inexpensive and currently creates the chemical p-xylene with an efficient yield of 75-percent, using most of the biomass feedstock, Dauenhauer says. The research is published in the journal ACS Catalysis.
Dauenhauer, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst, says the new discovery shows that there is an efficient, renewable way to produce a chemical that has immediate and recognizable use for consumers. He says the plastics industry currently produces p-xylene from petroleum and that the new renewable process creates exactly the same chemical from biomass.
'You can mix our renewable chemical with the petroleum-based material and the consumer would not be able to tell the difference," Dauenhauer says.
Consumers will already know the plastics made from this new process by the triangular recycling label "#1" on plastic containers. Xylene chemicals are used to produce a plastic called PET (or polyethylene terephthalate), which is currently used in many products including soda bottles, food packaging, synthetic fibers for clothing and even automotive parts.
The new process uses a zeolite catalyst capable of transforming glucose into p-xylene in a three-step reaction within a high-temperature biomass reactor. Dauenhauer says this is a major breakthrough since other methods of producing renewable p-xylene are either expensive (e.g., fermentation) or are inefficient due to low yields.
A key to the success of this new process is the use of a catalyst that is specifically designed to promote the p-xylene reaction over other less desirable reactions. Dauenhauer says his research colleagues, professors Wei Fan of UMass Amherst and Raul Lobo of the University of Delaware, d
|Contact: Paul J. Dauenhauer|
University of Massachusetts at Amherst