Canadian Plastics

Your car could very well grow on trees

Henry Ford is supposed to have quipped, in the 1940's, that he wanted to be able to manufacture automobiles in the same way you grew crops -- in the soil....

October 1, 2005   By Tom Venetis



Henry Ford is supposed to have quipped, in the 1940’s, that he wanted to be able to manufacture automobiles in the same way you grew crops — in the soil.

Jump ahead some 60 years to 2005 and it seems Henry Ford’s wish is slowly starting to come true.

Dr. Mohini Sain, a professor with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Forestry, as well as the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, has been developing biocomposites from plant fibres found, for example, in soy, corn and hemp.

The idea is that these biocomposites could be used to develop replacements for traditional plastics in everything from automobile bumpers to plastic bottles, medical products and high-performance materials used for building aircraft.

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Biocomposites are made by chemically treating a material like hemp so the fibres separate. These fibres are then combined with synthetic plastics to create tough bioplastic composites.

Right now, Sain’s research focuses on improving the way the biological materials are broken down, and improving methods for converting the chemical makeup of the organic materials into something similar to the petrochemicals used in plastics manufacturing.

“In the petrochemical industry, you characterize the crude and then you take that information and find ways of converting crude into a product,” Sain said. “This is no different with a biomaterial.”

Sain said he expects the first introduction of bioplastics will be in smaller, more focused market segments, particularly in the thermoplastics and thermosetting markets.

Maybe Henry Ford’s idea of growing automobiles was not so crazy after all.


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