IBM Researchers identify new catalyst that creates cheaper, biodegradable plastics from plants

IBM researchers said that they have identified a chemical catalyst that creates cheaper, biodegradable plastics from plants that can be used to make products such as eating utensils and medical devices. The researchers said that while biodegradable forks and spoons already exist on store shelves, consumers often choose inexpensive petroleum-based alternatives.

This new catalyst is an organic substance that lowers the energy required for the conversion from plant to plastic to occur.

They added that this breakthrough will lead to cheaper products and less waste. The researchers have created the catalyst with Standford University scientists at IBM Research’s Almaden lab in San Jose, California.

“What’s exciting about this discovery is that we now have a cheaper way to convert plants into common consumer plastics that decompose over time, providing an alternative to recycling plastics,” IBM Research computational chemist Gavin O. Jones said. “Making biodegradable plastics mainstream means less impact on our solid waste systems,” added Mr. Jones.

The current method to convert plants into biodegradable plastics imparts heavy metals into the process. It is difficult to remove these heavy metals, which remain in the material and do not decompose over time.

The scientists said that the catalyst does not contain heavy metals and can thus degrade in the environment just like the plastic itself.


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