“Clean the air! Clean the sky! Wash the wind!” -T.S. Eliot
This is exactly what new breakthroughs in the field of biodegradable and renewable polymers are re-affirming. Plastics have dramatically changed the way we live and have allowed us to innovate and develop by providing a strong ground for technological advancement. But, on the other pan of the beam balance are the non bio-degradable trash and pollution from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. An emerging industry is trying to polish plastic’s environmentally tarnished image by using waste products such as carbon dioxide and Escherichia Coli bacteria to make bio degradable and renewable polymers.
The trend gained momentum when, on 7 November 2007, Novomer Inc. ,an Ithaca , New York based company that manufactures eco friendly plastics and polymers using carbon dioxide announced that it had raised $ 6.6 million in a fund raising campaign. This cash infusion has come in tow with the small business grants from National Science Foundation ($ 500,000) and the US department of energy ($ 100,000). For continued development of its polymerization catalysts systems, Novomer is planning to use the money to expand both its productive capacity and development efforts. Prior to this, polymers based on biological materials could be created but they were more of a novelty because the expense in manufacturing them was a deterrent for their large scale production. The methodology that Novomer is adopting is different from other bio-plastic efforts in several ways. One of the most important of them being that “the process is carried out at room temperature using relatively little energy”, says the company President, Charles Hamilton. This automatically implies positive consequences that the fossil fuels are not burned during the process. “We combine liquid epoxides with carbon dioxide in a rector that’s like a pressure cooker”, he says. “Throw in a catalyst and those two parts come together like a zipper. You create a very long chain of epoxides bonded to carbon dioxide.” The product which comes out of the reactor (the largest being a one gallon metal tank) is a honey-like liquid containing a small amount of the catalyst which is then filtered out. The company also plans to use Carbon Dioxides form businesses in other industries, such as Concrete manufacturers and Hydrogen producers as it intends to scale up its operations. Novomer develops these polymers for companies that are into manufacturing of plastics. “It’s very comparable to other large scale polymers used to make computer cases, films and bottles”
Hamilton reaffirms. Specialized biomedical devices such as heart stents and emerging technology such as solar cells also use plastic. Whereas surgeons today may hold broken bones together with metal screws that subsequently must be removed after the break is healed, bioplastics hold the promise of surgical materials that serve the same purpose but safely degrade within the body negating further surgery. This move by Novomer has been welcomed by other bio plastic producers in the industry which is very crucial to establishing a good reputation for polymer made for biodegradable and renewable resources. Such vision is important because “it will be a long time before you will knock petroleum based products out of the market”, says co-founder and chief scientific officer Oliver Peoples of Cambridge, Mass.–based Metabolix, Inc., formed in 1992. The pressure on oil-based companies continues to grow due to increasing growing price of oil and in items to come due to non-renewable nature of fossil fuels in face of unabated increase in public consumption of plastic will further jeopardize the economic viability of these companies. In this scenario, the emerging bio-plastic industry is the new hope on the horizon Himadri Agarwal