Polymers from renewable resources
Gandini, Alessandro University of Aveiro, Santiago, Portugal.
- Materials from polysaccharides
- Materials from vegetable oils
- Materials from sugars
- Materials from pine resin
- Materials from poly(carboxylic acids), polyols, and hydroxyacids
- Materials derived from furan monomers
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
The biological activities associated with the animal and vegetable realms produce incessantly an immense variety of simple and complex and large and small molecular structures, which include macromolecular architectures that play fundamental roles in different aspects of life's requirements. These roles include, among others, basic genetic features such as DNA and RNA, essential and precise biological mechanisms such as the vast array of proteins, energy sources such as starch, and actual materials that ensure specific mechanical properties such as cellulose, lignin, and chitin or other functions, as with natural rubber. The importance of the multitude of small biological molecules is equally essential in all facets of the chemistry of life, including their role as precursors (monomers) to all the above polymers. In the present context, the term “polymers from renewable resources” refers to macromolecular materials derived, more or less directly, from natural compounds, constantly renewed, ultimately thanks to solar energy. It belongs therefore to a wider scientific and technological domain of polymers as materials, which were born around the mid-nineteenth century and boomed spectacularly a century later because of the rapid development of petroleum, gas, and coal chemistry (that is, an industrial activity based on nonrenewable fossil resources). A more colloquial but scientifically flawed definition for “polymers from renewable resources” is simply “making plastics using vegetable or animal sources,” as an alternative to those based on fossil counterparts. It is particularly instructive to note that the very first macromolecular materials produced on an industrial scale were in fact derived from renewable resources, namely, cellulose esters, vulcanized natural rubber for tires and other commodities, and linoleum from vegetable oils, all still in widespread use today. The subsequent progress in the chemistry of both the synthesis of monomers from fossil resources and their polymerization processes, which culminated in the petrochemistry boom after World War II, spurred the polymer revolution that provided society with a startling range of new materials, from routine daily commodities to key components in the manufacturing of high-tech devices. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the rising cost of petroleum and the realization that the availability of fossil resources was dwindling accelerated the interest in research on polymers from renewable resources. Within the first decade of the twenty-first century, this involvement increased exponentially in both the academic and industrial sectors. This article illustrates this burgeoning situation through a limited number of relevant examples, covering promising research and practical realizations.
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