Miscanthus as the new petroleum?

Swaying Miscanthus Image: Shutterstock


Wageningen University & Research is looking for alternatives to plastic, not just to prevent pollution, but also to reduce the use of fossil resources. Watch this video about the Fossil Free mission to find out more.

Wouldn’t a plastic-free world be amazing? No more plastic soup in the oceans, no microplastic in the food and bodies of humans and animals, not to mention that we would substantially reduce the demand for fossil resources, which are currently used to make all those plastics. WUR is doing all it can to find fossil-free alternatives to plastic. One example is catalytic convertors that capture CO2 from the air that is then used as the basis for new materials to replace plastic — research that biobased chemist Harry Bitter is working on. Another is the cultivation of Miscanthus (also known as elephant grass) as a substitute for petroleum that can be used for sustainable bioplastic or even cycle paths. Luisa Trindade, a geneticist/plant breeder at Wageningen, thinks that farmers in Europe will be able to grow Miscanthus within five years: “It’s technically possible already, but the costs are too high. We need to optimise the product and the process.”

If you randomly chuck all the plastics together, you’ll be lucky to even make a roadside post

But bioplastic is not ideal either. Manufacturing new materials takes a lot of energy and natural resources, which makes it a burden on the environment, stresses Harriëtte Bos, an expert on circular economy. Therefore, we are better off reusing the huge amount of plastic we already have rather than burning it. But that also means we need to separate the plastic properly, as there are big differences between the different types. Bos: “If you randomly chuck them all together, you’ll be lucky to even make a roadside post.” So there is work to be done, especially when you realise that bioplastic only makes up half a per cent of all plastics, according to Bos. Watch the video for the full story about the Fossil Free mission.

Mission Fossil Free The question is not if we will switch to a bio-based economy, but when, according to researchers of Wageningen University & Research. They are looking for bio-based alternatives to plastics with great urgency – not just to prevent pollution, but mainly to counteract the use of fossil raw materials. And there is a lot of work to be done: only half a percent of all plastics consists of bioplastic.

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