In many ways plastics are simply synthetic compounds that mimic and try to improve upon substances we find widespread in nature—polymers such as you might find in wood, leaves, seeds and fur. Bio-based plastics (those derived from biological sources other than fossil fuels) have been around for more than 100 years. In fact, celluloid, the first synthetic plastic ever made was invented in the mid 1800s, and—you guessed it—was bio-based.
Although bio-based plastics were widely researched and developed for the better part of 100 years, development of bio-based plastics was essentially shelved in the mid 1900s due to the widespread use of crude oil as a base for synthetic plastics—it was simply cheaper and easier to use due to its growing prevalence as the fuel source of choice.
But bio-based plastics are currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts due to renewed interest in weaning ourselves off of crude oil—so much so that now a group of researchers Utrecht University in the Netherlands suggest that almost all of the world’s plastics could be replaced with bio-based plastics.
The 243 page report goes into intricate details that I couldn’t possibly do justice to in this little snippet, but suffice it to say that the researchers find that there is no technical barrier to replacing 90% of all the plastics we use in our world today with bio-based plastics.
The researchers caution that the transition won’t come quickly and even under a high adoption rate, only about 1.5% of total worldwide production of plastics will be bio-based by 2020. Even so, the fact that it can be done without any technical limitations is great news for a world as dependent on plastics as we’ve become. And companies such as Ford have already begun serious research into how to replace much of the plastic used in their cars with bio-based types.
One cautionary note which I’m not sure really bears any relevance but is worth pointing out anyways: the research was commissioned by both the European Bioplastics association and the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence (EPNOE). Although it seems the report is unbiased, it’s always good to know where the funding is coming from.
Source: Green Car Congress
Image Credit: Ford