Plant plastics

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Plant plastics

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The story

A team of scientists from a Dutch university has discovered a way of turning biogas made from plant matter into the building blocks of common plastics.
They used a new kind of iron catalyst made from nanoparticles to make ethene and propene. This new method means that plastics with the same chemical structure, and therefore properties as traditional petroplastics, can be produced using biomass, a renewable resource.

Teaching ideas

Making plastics from plants is nothing new. You could get your students making starch-based plastics following the method linked below. In testing the plastics they will see that they do not have many of the same useful properties as pertroplastics. However, these types of bioplastics are totally biodegradable.

You could then introduce the story and divide the class in half with each side trying the convince you that their development should get funding: Developing new starch based plastics or this new type of bioplastic.

So, what do your students think? Does the fact that these types of plastic will reduce our dependence on oil outweigh the fact that they are not biodegradable? What solutions can they come up with to solve the plastic problem?

Teaching resource

As an extra idea, I have created this resource which can be used as a class activity or homework. It contains the story and a few questions on polymerisation and biodegradable plastics that are linked to GCSE specifications.


The news story this post was based on

Practical on making a starch-based plastic

The problems with non-biodegradeable plastics were highlighted in this post.