A waste product from making paper could yield a safer, greener alternative to the potentially harmful chemical BPA, which is used in many plastics, researchers have said.
Scientists made the BPA alternative from lignin, the compound that gives wood its strength, and they say it could be ready for the market within five years.
Kaleigh Reno, a graduate student who presented the report, said that approximately 3.5 million tons of BPA are produced annually worldwide.
BPA is the component that gives shatter-proof plastic eyewear and sports equipment their strength.
To find a safer, more environmentally friendly alternative, Reno and her advisor, Richard Wool, Ph.D., who are at the University of Delaware, turned to lignin. They note that papermaking and other wood-pulping processes produce 70 million tons of lignin byproduct each year, 98 percent of which is incinerated to generate small amounts of energy.
Reno has developed a process that instead converts lignin fragments into a compound called bisguaiacol-F (BGF), which has a similar shape to BPA. She and Wool predict it will act like BPA, as well.
And because BGF is made from an existing waste product, Reno believes it will be a viable alternative economically and environmentally. BPA is manufactured from compounds found in oil, a fossil fuel, while BGF's feedstock, lignin, comes from trees, a renewable resource.