Processing Magazine

UMass chemical engineers discover high-yield method for producing plastics from biomass

June 6, 2012

AMHERST, Mass. — A team of chemical engineers led by Paul J. Dauenhauer of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered a new, high-yield method of producing the key ingredient used to make plastic bottles from biomass.

The process is inexpensive and currently creates the chemical p-xylene with an efficient yield of 75%, using most of the biomass feedstock.

The new process uses a zeolite catalyst capable of transforming glucose into p-xylene in a three-step reaction within a high-temperature biomass reactor.

According to Dauenhauer, this is a major breakthrough since other methods of producing renewable p-xylene are either expensive (e.g., fermentation) or are inefficient due to low yields.

“You can mix our renewable chemical with the petroleum-based material and the consumer would not be able to tell the difference,” Dauenhauer said.