Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A No-Brainer Approach to Turning Biowaste in Thermoplastics

Given all the incredible technology we have available in our labs, there is often the temptation to make our work more complicated and involved than it needs to be. Why measure molecular weight with an Ubbelholde tube (and the Mark-Houwink equation) when you can use the GPC with multi-angle and dynamic light scattering detectors? Why measure viscosity with a falling ball when you can use a stress-controlled rheometer? Why model something on a PC when you can use a parallel processing machine and get (the same) answer a few seconds faster?

While the sophisticated methods are often necessary, many times they are not. Simplicity can be a breath of fresh air. Such is the case with the new research in which waste biomaterials were turned into usable thermoplastics by simple soaking them in trifluoracetic acid (TFA). Cocoa pod husk, rice husks, parsley stems and spinach stems were used as input. The resulting polymers showed some decent properties, with moduli as high as a few thousand MPa and tensile strengths up to 60 MPa.

There are some obvious downsides, such as
  • the long soaking times of 3 to 14 days – who’s going to build a factory that has that much material in process? We’re not making alcoholic beverages here
  • the moisture uptake - as much as 40 wt% adsorption!
  • the brittleness (often 10% strain or less
but I still love the simplicity of this approach.

The question is, can this simplicity be enough or do we need the NMR with Cross Polarization Magic Angle Spinning?

Previous Years
August 13, 2013 - Limits to Innovation in F1 Racing

August 13, 2012 - A New Perspective on the Great Garbage Patch

August 13, 2010 - More Aspen Research Video Available

August 13, 2009 - More fun from the New England Journal of Medicine

August 13, 2008 - My only political comment and it's not political at all

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