Two laboratory breakthroughs are poised to dramatically improve how plastics are made by assembling molecular chains more quickly and with less waste. Using such environmentally friendly substances as Vitamin C or pure water, the two approaches present attractive alternatives to the common plastic manufacturing technique called free radical polymerization (FRP).
Plastics are polymers, long, potentially complex, molecule chains crafted from an array of smaller chemical units. Using FRP, chemical engineers can create the right plastic for a range of applications, such as a specific trim for a car door or soft foam for a pillow.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have discovered that adding vitamin C, glucose, or other electron-absorbing agents to a powerful plastic manufacturing method can reduce the needed copper catalyst by 1000 times. Because the catalyst has to be removed from the end products, less of the metal means far less waste and drastically reduced costs.
Note that the plastic will still be made with petroleum. The new technique simply improves on the manufacturing process. Bioplastics are greener because they are made with organic materials, and are thus biodegradable.