Growing solutions to plastic problems – Ohio Ag Net

Don “Doc” Sanders

Plastic is around us. Cookware and tableware, toys and games, car and truck fenders, syringes, fence posts, disposable water bottles, signs, and even human anatomical parts made with 3D printers. They are all made of plastic.

We are grateful to Leo Baekeland, a wonderful but eccentric Belgian-born chemist, for taking us into the world of plastics. He experimented with formaldehyde and phenolic formulations and invented the first type of plastic in 1907, named Bakelite. It is a sturdy heat-resistant product that can be molded into various shapes, and was mainly used in electrical equipment such as telephones.

Baekeland landed on the cover of his history-making invention time magazine. And with the founding of the first plastic company, Bakelite, he became known as the father of the plastics industry. Tagline for his company’s star products: “Thousands of Materials Used”.

Bakelite has focused on innovations in mobile phones, smartwatches, robotics and more today. Since his breakthrough, new chemical compositions have been developed to further expand the use of plastics. Too many to be included in this publication.

The downside of all plastics produced over the last 100 years is that they still exist. Billions of tons of plastic are trapped in ditches along the road, parking lots, and literally square miles of the ocean.

Plastic is a slow-moving guest with a 400-450 year decomposition cycle. This is nearly half a thousand years that has caused a special kind of havoc in our environment. (By 2050, it is estimated that the ocean will contain more plastic than fish.)

You are probably familiar with the types of environmental cancers I describe. All plastic beverage bottles, grocery bags and wrapping paper that have been thrown away in our wind-exposed environment. Plastic Oceans International reports that less than 9% of plastic is recycled.

The rush into plastic data is staggering.About 380 billion Tons are produced around the world every year. Half of them are intended for one-time use.

Now American farmers enter as the saying white knight! Oliver Peoples of Yield10 Biosciences suggests that American farmers can grow at least part of the plastic crisis by growing genetically modified camelina crops that contain natural polyester polymers that can be processed into plastics.

This flowering plant, Camelina, is an oilseed crop that resembles a sunflower but is not very tall. The plastic polymer PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanecate) found in Camelina seeds belongs to a family of bio-based polymers that are widespread in nature. It is completely biodegradable and can disappear shortly after disposal. When dropped on rivers, seas, fields and piles of compost, they deteriorate very rapidly.

While working at MIT, people have developed ways to produce PHA by fermenting manipulated microorganisms. He first wrote a patent application for this process. He also developed a way to grow crops containing PHA to provide a ready source of industrial plastic polymers.

Currently, Cargill’s NatureWorks facility in Nebraska and BASF has products that can degrade the plastics sent to the plant. However, plastics made from PHA polymers do not need to be shipped to the factory for processing. If you leave a PHA PET bottle in your backyard, it will deteriorate fairly quickly in itself.

The two genetically modified Camelina plant lines produce seeds with PHA concentrations of 5% to 10%. The ideal level for financial profit is 20%. I think this is achievable, as demonstrated by companies that double the THA content of marijuana to what PHA is currently reaching and give users a real kick.

Research is also being conducted to make Camelina plants resistant to herbicides and keep production costs as low as possible. People’s strategy is to grow camelina as a front cover crop for corn or as a double crop with soybean follow-up.

The expanded acreage was planted in Idaho and Manitoba in 2021. The hurdles have not yet been overcome, but Camelina’s potential looks endless beyond the production of degradable plastic polymers. Other Camelina seed characteristics include high protein content and signs that seeds may improve feed efficiency and animal disease resistance.

Growing solutions to plastic problems – Ohio Ag Net

Source link Growing solutions to plastic problems – Ohio Ag Net

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