Monday, December 22, 2008

Green alternative to plastics: liquid wood

msnbc.com: "Just in time for Christmas, German researchers are ramping up a manufacturing technique for making intricate Nativity figurines, toys, and even hi-fi speaker boxes from a renewable and surprisingly versatile source: liquid wood.
The bio-plastic dubbed Arboform, derived from wood pulp-based lignin, can be mixed with hemp, flax or wood fibers and other additives such as wax to create a strong, nontoxic alternative to petroleum-based plastics, according to its manufacturers.
Crude oil is the basis of the chemical for plastics, said Norbert Eisenreich, a senior researcher and deputy of the directors at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Pfinztal, Germany. As the price of crude oil increases, he said, so does the price of plastics — and the interest in finding replacements.
The growing list of health concerns linked to plastic ingredients, such as heavy metals and softeners known as phthalates, also has increased the impetus to find a good substitute for manufacturing toys and other products.
The institute began looking for alternatives to oil-based products in the mid-'90s, said Eisenreich. To decrease the dependence on oil, however, any alternative material would need to be relatively abundant. Lignin, he said, offers an ideal candidate because tens of millions of tons are often discarded as a byproduct of the papermaking process."

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