The next material revolution will start in the forest

Plastic straws and utensils will soon be history but they will not be missed, as something much better will replace them.

The Academy of Finland has granted FinnCERES about €9 million in funding for the next four years. The project brings together the close research cooperation of Aalto University and VTT with industry as well as national and international research networks.

One goal of the FinnCERES is to challenge plastics with new, plant-derived materials, including those from lignocellulose. This is a major challenge, since plastics do have their strengths – and a considerable advantage for now.

Side-stream hydrocarbons create the building blocks of plastics: long and strong synthetic polymer chains consisting of thousands of molecules. For their part, lignocellulose biopolymers are created in the photosynthesis process through the interaction of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, and they constitute the three main structural components of lignocellulose: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.

“Our idea is to separate the constituent parts while preserving their polymeric structures, and then use these parts to engineer materials with entirely new properties,” says Aalto Professor Orlando Rojas.

At the start of the year, the EU published its first-ever plastics strategy, which is based on circular economy. More than 25 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced in Europe each year. Less than a third is recycled, while the rest ends up as unsorted landfill waste or in the environment.

Read the whole article on Aalto University website.