BPA (bisphenol A), the chemical found in many plastics that mimics estrogen, is potentially increasing our risk of things like obesity, diabetes and even cancer. Many companies have started to phase out its use, but canned goods, receipts and many plastic goods still contain the chemical. Researchers at the University of Delaware believe they have found a safer and greener alternative to BPA that could be sourced from paper-making waste.
Lignin, the compound that gives wood its strength, could be used to create bisguaiacol-F (BGF), a compound that with a similar molecular structure to BPA, but without the ability to affect hormones. They used U.S. Environmental Protection Agency software to evaluate the molecule to confirm it would be less toxic than BPA
"We know the molecular structure of BPA plays a large role in disrupting our natural hormones, specifically estrogen," she said. "We used this knowledge in designing BGF such that it is incapable of interfering with hormones but retains the desirable thermal and mechanical properties of BPA."
Currently, about 3.5 million tons of BPA are produced each year from petroleum, while about 70 million tons of lignin are produced as a byproduct of paper-making. Most of that lignin is incinerated each year to produce small amounts of energy, so a large waste-stream could be utilized to make our plastics safer.
The researchers just presented their findings at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and they say the BPA replacement could be ready for the market within five years.