Sweet material: biodegradable plastic made from sugar and carbon dioxide

Research suggests that biodegradable plastics can be made using sugar and carbon dioxide as a safer alternative to traditional polycarbonate plastic.

Sugar and carbon dioxide are the main ingredients of the new biodegradable plastic.

A type of polycarbonate that can be biodegraded back into the carbon dioxide and sugar from which it is made, is being developed.

The material, which replaces plastics made from crude oil, is being developed by scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath.

The sugar and carbon dioxide-based material is created by a process that uses low pressures at room temperature, making it cheaper and safer to produce.

The plastic is bio-compatible so could be used for medical implants or eventually as scaffolds for growing replacement organs for transplant.

The material is strong, transparent and scratch-resistant like plastics derived from petrochemicals, but is also crucially easily biodegradable with the help of enzymes from soil bacteria.

Dr Antoine Buchard, Whorrod Research Fellow in the University’s Department of Chemistry, said: “With an ever-growing population, there is an increasing demand for plastics.

“This new plastic is a renewable alternative to fossil-fuel based polymers, potentially inexpensive, and, because it is biodegradable, will not contribute to growing ocean and landfill waste.

“Our process uses carbon dioxide instead of the highly toxic chemical phosgene, and produces a plastic that is free from BPA, so not only is the plastic safer, but the manufacture process is cleaner too.”

The researchers have also looked at using other sugars such as ribose and mannose.

Buchard is optimistic: “Chemists have 100 years’ experience with using petrochemicals as a raw material so we need to start again using renewable feedstocks like sugars as a base for synthetic but sustainable materials. It is early days, but the future looks promising.”

The team’s findings have been published recently in articles in the journals Polymer Chemistry and Macromolecules.