Researchers Produce Bioplastic from Wood-Based Biopaste

Scientists have transformed a viscous type of biopaste made of lignin from wood into a bioplastic material useful for making various components. The resulting material is quickly processed, rapidly solidifies, and valuable for 3D-printing into multiple structures, including complex parts. This material and the research behind it may provide many useful industrial possibilities and applications.

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons) Scientists have transformed a viscous type of biopaste made from lignin in wood into a bioplastic material useful for making various components.

The Study

The material was developed by the research team led by the University of Freiburg Forest Biomaterials Chair and professor Marie-Pierre Laborie. This wood-based synthetic but biodegradable material can be useful for the construction of lightweight components, among many other applications.

The initial findings of the study were published in two journals: Biomacromolecules and Applied Bio Materials. These two publications complement each other in setting up a new component with many possible future uses.

Impetus and Rationale of the Research

Lignin is a material which serves to strengthen plant cell walls. It lignifies these cell walls to make them "woody." Lignification allows plants to have protection from parasites and environmental forces and stressors such as storms and winds. 

Lignin is also a byproduct of the manufacture of paper. It is usually incinerated to serve as bioenergy. Laborie says that this is why her team looked into alternative ways to use this raw material, which is considered waste.

This potential pushed the research team to start reexamining some combined materials which were previously studied by a US team of researchers roughly three decades ago.

Their system used liquid crystals made from cellulose, which mainly compose plant cell walls. The glasses provide strength as well as the good flow in the bio paste.

The second material comprising it is lignin, which "glues" the material's microstructure during the biosynthetic's creation. This was initially F. Robert Gleuwitz's discovery, which he worked on as a doctoral thesis.

Unique Characteristics and Directions for Future Research

The biosynthetic's orientation determines its features. For example, it can be flexible or rigid, depending on where the force acting on it originates.

It is necessary to conduct further research if the material is to have any industrial applications. It has the potential to be a lightweight construction composite.

Also, in their study, the research team used highly pure samples of lignin. It remains to be seen if lignin wastes in the manufacture of paper are similarly usable.

Lisa Ebers has also shown how the biosynthetic's characteristics can vary depending on its components and chemical processing. Beech tree lignin, which has so far been used by current research, may have different properties from lignin of other plant species. This could lead to the creation of an entirely different resulting liquid crystal with different properties.

Optimal ratios of quantity may also vary depending on their intended application. 

On an entirely different direction, the researchers will soon study its application on determining soil quality. This can be made possible by looking into cellulose and lignin degradability in different soil types.

This current research in which the wood-based biopaste is made into bioplastic shows a lot of potential in various industries and could spring into other future investigations.

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