Tree stumps contain substances such as lignin and rosin, which have chemical building blocks to make environmentally responsible plastics.

By Guerino Sacripante, research fellow for Xerox

“It makes sense to make plastic from materials that … are derived from sustainable sources -- like trees.” -- Guerino Sacripante

“It makes sense to make plastic from materials that … are derived from sustainable sources — like trees.” — Guerino Sacripante

For most, tree stumps are not very interesting, often conjuring up images of a threatened planet. But for scientists like me, these forest leftovers hold the promise of a much more eco-friendly world.

Tree stumps contain substances such as lignin and rosin – treasures, so far as I’m concerned. Broken down, these substances offer the chemical building blocks needed to make commercial plastics that are environmentally responsible.

Petro chemicals are the most common source for the polymers that are used to make most of the plastic in the world. Since oil is a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions, it makes sense to use materials that have similar performance but are derived from sustainable sources — like trees.

Lifecycles and Innovation

When creating alternatives to petro-based products it’s important to consider the life cycle. For example, bio fuels made from agricultural products may often require more energy to produce than what the fuel can provide. The other challenge is cost. Solving these issues requires a lot of innovation.

Recycling plastic is also interesting. There are companies that collect plastic waste and degrade it back into chemical building blocks. One of the things I’m trying to do is take those building blocks and see how we can incorporate them into toner resins for printers.

Guerino Sacripante is a research fellow at the Xerox Research Centre Canada in Mississauga, Ontario. He talked about his work at the American Chemical Society conference in Dallas, and he will present his research in May at the 2014 Institute for Polymer Research at the University of Waterloo. Guerino holds 195 U.S. patents.

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