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Plastic that grows on trees, part two
Date:5/19/2009

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Some researchers hope to turn plants into a renewable, nonpolluting replacement for crude oil. To achieve this, scientists have to learn how to convert plant biomass into a building block for plastics and fuels cheaply and efficiently. In new research, chemists have successfully converted cellulose -- the most common plant carbohydrate -- directly into the building block called HMF in one step.

The result builds upon earlier work by researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In that work<http://www.pnl.gov/news/release.asp?id=255>, scientists produced HMF from simple sugars derived from cellulose. In this new work, researchers developed a way to bypass the sugar-forming step and go straight from cellulose to HMF. This simple process generates a high yield of HMF and allows the use of raw cellulose as feed material, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of Applied Catalysis A.

"In biomass like wood, corn stover and switchgrass, cellulose is the most abundant polymer that researchers are trying to convert to biofuels and plastics," said chemist Z. Conrad Zhang, who led the work while at PNNL's Institute for Interfacial Catalysis.

HMF, also known as 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, can be used as a building block for plastics and "biofuels" such as gasoline and diesel, essentially the same fuels processed from crude oil. In previous work, PNNL researchers used a chemical and a solvent known as an ionic liquid to convert the simple sugars into HMF.

The chemical, a metal chloride known as chromium chloride, converted sugar into highly pure HMF. But to be able to feed cellulosic biomass directly from nature, the team still needed to break down cellulose into simple sugars -- Zhang and colleagues wanted to learn how to skip that step.

The ionic liquid has the added benefit of being able to dissolve cellu
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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