New process make sustainable rubber, plastics

New process to make sustainable rubber, plastics

8:18 AM, 2nd May 2017
New process to make sustainable rubber, plastics
Butadiene is a molecule traditionally made from petroleum or natural gas, used to produce synthetic rubber and plastics.

NEWARK, US: A team of scientists from the University of Delaware, the University of Minnesota and the University of Massachusetts – has invented a process to make butadiene from renewable sources like trees, grasses and corn.

Butadiene is a molecule traditionally made from petroleum or natural gas, used to produce synthetic rubber and plastics.

The findings in published online in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

The study’s authors are all affiliated with the catalysis centre for energy innovation (CCEI) based at the University of Delaware. CCEI is an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy.

“Our team combined a catalyst we recently discovered with new and exciting chemistry to find the first high-yield, low-cost method of manufacturing butadiene. This research could transform the multi-billion-dollar plastics and rubber industries,” said Dionisios Vlachos, CCEI director.

Butadiene is the chief chemical component in a broad range of materials found throughout society. When this four-carbon molecule undergoes a chemical reaction to form long chains called polymers, styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) is formed, which is used to make abrasive-resistant automobile tires. When blended to make nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR), it becomes the key component in hoses, seals and the rubber gloves ubiquitous to medical settings.

In the world of plastics, butadiene is the chief chemical component in acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), a hard plastic that can be moulded into rigid shapes.

 “Our team’s success came from our philosophy that connects research in novel catalytic materials with a new approach to the chemistry. This is a great example where the research team was greater than the sum of its parts,” said Vlachos.

Novel chemistry in 3 steps

The novel chemistry included a three-step process starting from biomass-derived sugars. Using technology developed within CCEI, the team converted sugars to a ring compound called furfural. In the second step, the team further processed furfural to another ring compound called tetrahydrofuran (THF).

It was in the third step that the team found the breakthrough chemical manufacturing technology. Using a new catalyst called “phosphorous all-silica zeolite,” developed within the centre, the team was able to convert THF to butadiene with high yield (greater than 95 percent).

The team called this new, selective reaction “dehydra-decyclization” to represent its capability for simultaneously removing water and opening ring compounds at once.

“We discovered that phosphorus-based catalysts supported by silica and zeolites exhibit high selectivity for manufacturing chemicals like butadiene. When comparing their capability for controlling certain industrial chemistry uses with that of other catalysts, the phosphorous materials appear truly unique and nicely complement the set of catalysts we have been developing at CCEI,” said prof Wei Fan of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“This newer technology significantly expands the slate of molecules we can make from lignocellulose,” added prof Paul Dauenhauer, University of Minnesota, who is co-director of CCEI and a co-author of the study.

Additional co-authors include prof Michael Tsapatsis, postdoctoral researchers Dae Sung Park, Charles Spanjers, Limin Ren and Omar Abdelrahman, and graduate student Katherine Vinter, all from the University of Minnesota, and graduate student Hong Je Cho from the University of Massachusetts.

© University of Delaware News 

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