We focus a lot on the use of oil in vehicular applications, but the fact of the matter is that all oil isn’t burned. Plastics are made from petro-chemicals and can be found in everything from carpets to music CD’s. If we’re going to make our limited oil reserves last, we’re going to need to replace plastic, or find another way to make it.
Dutch Scientists are on the case, for the first time successfully creating the basic building blocks of plastic production from plant matter. They’ve done so using nanatechnology to break down plant biomass into ethylene and propylene, two common chemical structures using in plastic production. The scientists used a catalyst of nanoparticles separated by carbon nanofibers that converted biogas into these two chemical components.
The hope is that non-edible biomass could be used to replace plastic production that relies on crude oil for these chemicals. The process did not produce excess methane gas either, so even those these plant plastics aren’t biodegradable, in the long run they’re probably cleaner than crude oil anyways.
Nanotechnology holds a lot of promise in the field of alternative fuels, and the use of plastics has never been higher. But there will always be the debate about using arable land for fuel production when there are so many hungry people in the world. But that doesn’t mean they should just stop trying; who knows what sorts of fruits these breakthroughs might lead to?