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New bio-inspired processes and products from renewable feedstocks

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New industrial products mimic nature

A multidisciplinary research consortium has taken inspiration from nature and converted agricultural waste biomass into useful industrial products using an environmentally friendly process.

Climate Change and Environment

Traditionally, manufacturing of industrial products often requires toxic, expensive and energy-demanding chemical processes. In their search for a different approach, scientists found a biological alternative for glue: water resistant adhesives produced by molluscs that attach to underwater surfaces. Using a similar approach, the EU-funded BIO-MIMETIC (New bio-inspired processes and products from renewable feedstocks) project aimed to mimic the natural creation of other complex products. The project’s researchers set out to convert lignin, an agricultural renewable waste, into high-value household products using natural chemicals rather than harmful chemicals. A polymer, meaning many parts, is a complex chain-like molecule consisting of multiple repeated subunits that give it specific structural properties, such as strength or elasticity. To test lignin's potential use in polymer development, researchers first extracted lignin from different natural sources. Enzymes were then used to modify the molecule. Next, the researchers used these modified compounds to form different molecules with novel chemical properties. The consortium also aimed to create polymers for commercial products such as detergents and adhesive gels, which could be used in cosmetics and bio-textiles. Their approach, once again, was to mimic the way in which marine organisms build and secrete adhesive bio-polymers. In addition, the consortium conducted a life cycle analysis (LCA) to evaluate the environmental sustainability of both the new biopolymers and consumer products. BIO-MIMETIC produced different sustainable bio-based household products and anti-ageing / anti-inflammatory skin creams and beauty masks without the use of petrochemicals. The new products created from biomass to replace those based on fossil fuels will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Furthermore, the use of enzymatic reactions as alternatives to currently-used organic solvents to produce bio-based products may help industrial production to meet the challenges set by climate change.

Keywords

Agricultural waste, biomass, water resistant adhesives, molluscs, BIO-MIMETIC, lignin, bio-polymers, life cycle analysis

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