Making Plastic from Sugarcane Scrap and CO2

The process is indeed plausible and economical.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Packaging is a real problem in society, causing pollution, and taking up a lot of raw materials. But what if it were possible to make plastic packaging from sugarcane scrap and capture CO2?


A new study led by Durham University has conceived of exactly such a process, reports ArsTechnica. And better yet, the economics shows this plastic-making method could even be cost-competitive.

The process has many steps, all that have been demonstrated before, and the end result is a plastic polymer called polyethylene furandicarboxylate, also known as PEF. This plastic is very similar to the PET used for water and soda bottles.

Since every step in the process has been done before, the study focuses on a life cycle analysis of the manufacturing process to compare exactly how this PEF method stacks up against the competition.

One area where the new process really shines is in the production of greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to the manufacturing of PET, PEF emits about one-third fewer greenhouse gases, and that is with the electricity required coming from natural gas. And if you opt for processes that use food sugars rather than leftover plant material, you can even decrease the emissions further.

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There is one caveat, however, and that is that this PEF process costs more to produce than PET. The study estimates PEF production amounts to about $2,400 per ton, while conventional PET is produced for a mere $1,800 per ton.

However, it should be noted that PEF is a little sturdier. “As such, the PEF production cost per bottle could be the same as or lower than that of PET,” the researchers write in their study.

So, there's still hope for this sugarcane-based process, especially as technologies continue to evolve and innovate. Could it one day replace all our plastic packaging?

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