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Plants into plastics

May 1, 2012 — A team of chemical engineers has discovered a new way to make plastic bottles from biomass rather than petroleum, with researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Delaware announcing the discovery on the heels of Earth Day.

The discovery demonstrates an efficient, renewable way to produce the chemical p-xylene, necessary in creating certain plastic containers. Xylene chemicals are used to produce a plastic called PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is currently used in many products including soda bottles, food packaging, synthetic fibers for clothing and even automotive parts.

"Our discovery shows remarkable potential for green plastics, particularly those used to distribute soft drinks and water,” said Dion Vlachos, director of the University of Delaware’s Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI). “This technology could significantly reduce production costs for manufacturers of plastics from renewable sources."