It’s best known as the plant from which tequila is made, but agave and other fibrous plants like pineapple and the skins of bananas, are now being made into plastic.
Led by Dr. Alcides Leao, scientists at Sao Paolo’s State University have developed what they call “super plastic” from the cellulose contained within the plants. Using a device similar to a pressure cooker, they’ve been able to turn the cellulose into nano-fibers, which after further processing, can be meshed to create an eco-friendly material that’s lighter and stronger than conventional petroleum-based plastic.
“What we do is we break up what nature did and use nature’s structure to strengthen other materials. So this is simply not destroying what nature did, but separating what nature produced and taking advantage of the mechanical properties that are infinitely superior to those produced by man. Our fiber is more resistant than steel.”
It’s also renewable. The auto industry is one sector where Laeo says the super plastic is perfectly suited.
He says within a few years, car parts like dashboards and steering wheels will be made from the bio-degradable material. The process is expensive, but Laeo says the price will come down and the benefits are too numerous to ignore.
“It will substitute traditional plastics made from petroleum. So the first benefit is it that is carbon neutral, since it doesn’t affect the balance of carbon.
Its second benefit is that it is renewable because it grows easily in a country like ours where there are great conditions, so it grows in months.
Third: it can also be recycled numerous times.”
And by stepping up production of the raw materials there are potential economic benefits for poor communities throughout the region… yet another reason says Dr Leao, for turning plants into plastic.
Bottom line: Scientists in Brazil have developed a method of turning pineapples, banana peels and other fibrous plants into plastic. The researchers say the material is strong, lightweight and eco-friendly and will soon replace conventional plastics in auto manufacturing.