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Managing Editor  | May 2017

Researchers develop process for creating sustainable rubber and plastic

A team of researchers from the University of Delaware, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Massachusetts has collaborated on the first high-yield, low-cost method for manufacturing butadiene, a chemical component of rubber and plastic materials, according to a report on the Delaware website.



Researchers have found a sustainable method for creating a chemical component of plastics.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The research team was affiliated with the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI) at the University of Delaware and it was through CCEI studies that a biomass-derived sugar was converted into furfural, a ring compound. Furfural was then converted into tetrahydrofuran (THF), another ring compound.


The article explained, “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 center, the team was able to convert THF to butadiene with high yield (greater than 95 percent).”


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


In addition to butadiene, the scientists believe this breakthrough demonstrates that new catalysts could be used to produce renewable biofuels and chemicals from biomass sources.


Butadiene is the chemical component in a number of products. After undergoing a chemical reaction and forming long chain polymers, it is used in tires. When blended to make a different polymer, it is used in hoses, seals, and rubber gloves. It is also an important component in ABS plastic, which is a rigid plastic used in a number of commercial products.


A sustainable method for creating this component could have significant benefits to the plastics industry.


The research was recently published in the American Chemical Society’s Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. The abstract stated:


“Catalytic ring-opening dehydration of tetrahydrofuran (THF), itself a product of decarbonylation and reduction of biomass-derived furfural, yields 1,3-butadiene, an important monomer in rubbers and elastomers.


“It is demonstrated that dehydra-decyclization of THF with phosphorus-containing siliceous self-pillared pentasil (SPP) or MFI structure exhibits high selectivity to butadiene (85–99%) at both low (9%) and high (89%) conversion of THF.


“High selectivity to pentadiene and hexadiene was also obtained from 2-methyl-tetrahydrofuran and 2,5-dimethyl-tetrahydrofuran, respectively, with phosphorus-containing, all-silica zeolites.”

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