Modern synthetic resins are made from fossil sources, are not biodegradable and can only be burned under strict precautions due to the release of toxic substances. Prof. Gadi Rothenberg and Dr. Albert Alberts of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have discovered a range of new thermoset resins made from renewable raw materials which are fully biodegradable, non-toxic and non-hazardous.
Most plastic products for domestic or construction use consist of three-dimensional networks of cross-linked polymers. These are thermosetting plastics. A classic example is the Bakelite resin produced from the reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. This material is still used to bind wood fibers in pressed wood such as medium density fiberboard (MDF) and formica. Synthetic resins are widely used in the construction industry. The resin of urea / formaldehyde is used Medium Density Overlay (MDO), a combination of concrete and plywood, used in concrete molds.
Completely biodegradable bioplastics
By selecting the right raw materials and process conditions for the cross-linking reaction the scientists, who work for the UvA's Heterogeneous Catalysis and Sustainable Chemistry research group, were able to make a range of bio-plastics ranging from hard foam material to flexible thin sheet materials. These are non-toxic and biodegradable. The process requires no toxic ingredients and no harmful substances are released from combustion. Moreover, the raw materials are readily available at competitive prices on the world market.
The new plastic could replace polyurethane and polystyrene in the construction and packaging industries. This also applies to the epoxy resins used for panels such as MDF. The follow-up research will focus on new applications and process development and upscaling.