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New catalyst to make eco-fiendly bio-based plastics possible

The catalyst can turn bio-based feed stocks into isobutene.

By
Brooks Hays
An illustration of the catalyst that encourages a chemical reaction which sees ethanol converted into isobutene. Photo by Washington State University
An illustration of the catalyst that encourages a chemical reaction which sees ethanol converted into isobutene. Photo by Washington State University

PULLMAN, Wash., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A newly invented catalyst promises to enable the production of bio-based chemicals and plastics. Researchers at Washington State University detailed their discovery in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The plastics industry relies heavily on the chemical isobutene; it's used to make everything from plastic bottles to car tires. Isobutene is made by superheating crude oil.

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In order to be on the right side of expected environmental regulations, the plastics industry is looking for new eco-friendly ways to make isobutene and other chemicals used in plastic production. The catalyst invented by chemists at Washington State does just that -- turning bio-based ethanol into isobutene.

Testing showed their catalyst could also work on other bio-based feed stocks similar to ethanol. Their analysis also suggests there is room for their catalyst in the marketplace.

"This is one example that shows the benefits of closely linking the practical and fundamental aspects of research to develop scalable and commercially practical catalysts for applications of importance to industries,'' study author Yong Wang, a Washington State bioengineer, said in a press release.

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