Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From Pine Stumps to Polymers

A couple of days ago, one of the Xerox company blogs [*] had a post about making plastics from tree stumps. While tree stumps have yet to be fully exploited as a chemical feedstock, they have been partially used for decades to support the polymer industry. In particular, the rosin from pine stumps has been extensively used.

20+ years ago it seemed like every paper company had a chemicals division that was doing just, refining and modifying rosin from pine stumps to make tackifiers for pressure-sensitive adhesives, fluxes for solder, inks and toners, and much more. Consolidation of the broader chemical industry has been mirrored in the rosin industry. Many of the manufacturer's names from long ago are gone but the tradenames (Foral, Zonarez) are still around.

Abietic Acid
The largest component of rosin is abietic and similar acids. This can then be hydrogenated to increase the stability against oxidation, or esterified with a wide range of mono, di-, tri and tetra-ols. The new products then melt at a variety of temperatures. Despite these modifications however, the end product still has that sticky pine sap feeling. Once you get it on your fingers, you're not getting it off anytime soon.

While there is an ever increasing interest in biosourcing as many chemicals as possible, the rosin industry has been doing so for decades. Using these chemicals in polymers is hardly a recent conversion to green technology that might be implied.

[*] Yes, Xerox is still around.

Previous Years
April 23, 2012 - Can You Lift A Polymer From One End?

April 23, 2010 - Fito-Lays' PLA Bag

April 23, 2010 - Can't Tell the Players Without a Scorecard

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