Polymers from plant by-products are a hot research topic these days, as we recently saw from Pepsi’s announcement that they will start rolling out bottles made from 100% plant material.
Alcides LeÃ£o, a professor at SÃ£o Paulo State University in Brazil, presented a couple of talks atÂ the recent American Chemical Society meeting on this topic. He spoke about novel plastics and polymers for automotive parts and medical devices made from agricultural sources.
At his March 27 presentation, LeÃ£o described using agricultural waste to create newÂ nanoparticles for automotive parts. These nanoparticles can reinforce polymers and improve their mechanical, optical, and dielectric properties.
LeÃ£o and colleagues studied the production and incorporation of nanoscale crystals of cellulose from sources such as banana and pineapple into thermoplastic polymers. Cellulose is the main structural component in plants and is a natural polymer. With nanocrystals of cellulose from agricultural waste mixed into thermoplastic polymers, the result is a lighter and tougher plastic that could be used in vehicles.
On March 29,Â LeÃ£o discussed theÂ preparation of cellulose nanocomposites based on thermoset and thermoplastic polymers. Thermoset plastic irreversibly hardens when heated, and thermoplastic polymers turn liquid when heated and soften when cooled. LeÃ£o’sÂ team investigated how the nanoscale crystals, obtained from agricultural waste, strengthened various plant fibers.
These novel materials can be used to make metal-free orthodontic retainers to strengthen teeth after root canal procedures and for developing artificial heart valves, ligaments, and hip joints. LeÃ£o claims if the cellulose material from plants can be successfully mass-produced, “it will eventually become a vital biomaterial and will be used in a wide variety of medical devices and consumer products.”
Source: “Composites from Natural Resources” (login required), oral presentation from 241st American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, March 27-31, 2011
Source: “Fruit fibres may help make cars,” Sky News, 03/28/11
Image by Nannette Turner/nannetteturner used under its Creative Commons license.
Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.