Scientists have created environmentally friendly polyurethane from flax, fat and algae

The absolute versatility of the material, which is currently produced mainly from secondary

petroleum products made polyurethane popularplastic for a range of products. Today, more than 16 million tons of polyurethane are produced worldwide every year. Very few aspects of our life are not affected by polyurethane.

However, the drive to rethink the way polyurethane is produced is growing.

Current methods are highly dependent ontoxic chemicals and non-renewable oil. Scientists have sought to develop a new plastic that has all the benefits of conventional polyurethane, but without dangerous side effects for the environment.

Laboratory results have shown that this is possible.

With new chemistry usingnon-toxic resources such as linseed oil, waste fat and even algae, scientists from NREL (National Laboratory for the Study of Renewable Energy) have developed an innovative method of producing renewable polyurethane without toxic precursors. This is a real breakthrough with the potential to green the market for products ranging from shoes to cars to mattresses.

Recently retired Phil Pienkos (pictured)founded the new company Polaris Renewables to help accelerate the commercialization of the new polyurethane, an idea that originally emerged from his research on algae biofuels at NREL. Credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL.

NREL specialists have developed formulas for a newpolyurethane based on biological substances using an original chemical process. It begins with an epoxidation process that prepares a base of canola oil, flaxseed oil, algae or food waste for further chemical reactions. By reacting epoxidized fatty acids with carbon dioxide from air or flue gas, scientists produce carbonated monomers. They are combined with diamines (derived from amino acids, another biological source) in a polymerization process. The result is a material that turns into a resin - non-cyanate polyurethane.

An innovative renewable energy formula -NREL researcher Tao Dong (right) and former intern Stephanie Federle (left) are exploring a non-toxic bio-based polyurethane resin, a promising alternative to conventional polyurethane. Credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL.

Replacing petroleum-based polyols with naturaloils, and toxic isocyanates - amino acids of biological origin, scientists managed to synthesize polymers with properties comparable to those of ordinary polyurethane. In other words, he has developed a viable, renewable, non-toxic alternative to conventional polyurethane.

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