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Plastic bottles and bags are traditionally derived from petroleum but with consumers wanting environmentally friendly alternatives, researches have tried everything from corn to wood chips to algae trying to find a greener way to produce plastic.  Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have discovered a more efficient way to turn biomass into plastic products with a method called pyrolysis.  

Pyrolysis is when organic matter such as wood chips or corn stalks are dried, ground and flash heated to 1022 degrees Fahrenheit in a chamber with no oxygen, this is so the biomass doesn't burn.  The biomass becomes a gray mixture of gases and liquids called "coke."  Less refreshing than Coca-Cola, this coke refers to coal distilled into a solid, high carbon biomass. Once the gases cool and condense, they become mixed with the liquids forming a mixture of oils.  These oils only cost $1 to produce and have the same energy potential as a gallon of gas. 

However, two factors make pyrolysis oil unsuitable for industrial use.  First, oxygen-rich acids in the oil make it highly corrosive which would eat through traditional engines and storage containers.  Two, the oil must be further broken down into smaller hydrocarbon chains that are more commonly used to make industrial chemicals.
Researchers have been testing combination of hydrogen and catalysts called zeolites to improve the efficiency of pyrolysis.  One combination gave promising results.  By reacting the pyrolysis oil with hydrogen over a ruthenium and platinum catalyst, they were able to replace the corrosive oxygen in the acids with hydrogen.  Typically, most of the catalysts tested were only able to break down 20% of the hydrocarbon chains leaving the rest to be unsuitable for use.  But, the ruthenium and platinum catalyst was able to break down 60% of the large hydrocarbon chain into five chemicals: toulene, benzene, xylene, propylene and ethylene.    These chemicals are five out of seven key starting chemicals that form the building blocks that propel the $400 billion petrochemical industry.
This breakthrough in technology provides an environmentally friendly way to produce fuel and plastic products that is efficient.  Pyrolysis oil has the potential save millions of gallons of crude oil by giving multinational corporations the option between using fuel or plastic products derived from crude oil or a host of naturally derived sources.

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