Researchers from a trio of U.S. universities have developed a technique to produce butadiene — a molecule traditionally sourced from oil or natural gas that underpins synthetic rubber and plastics — from renewable sources.Rubber is going green.Image credits Hans Braxmeier.Butadiene is the prime building block used for a whole bunch of materials we use today. It can be strewn together/polymerized to create styrene-butadiene rubber, the stuff quality tires are made of (apart, of course, from those made from eggshells and tomatoes). As nitrile butadiene rubber, it’s used to make hoses, seals, and the ubiquitous medical rubber glove. Butadiene is also the main component in acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, a rigid plastic that can be molded into hardy shapes — your computer or console case is likely made from this substance.But getting your hands on butadiene does pose one economic and ecological problem — you need to refine natural hydrocarbons such as oil and gas to produce it. So understandably, there has been a push develop renewable (and if at all possible, cheaper) methods of obtaining this monomer. One new paper describes exactly one such method: the team — from the University of Delaware, the University of Minnesota and the University of Massachusetts — has invented a process to make butadiene from renewable sugars found in trees, grasses, and corn.
Your phone’s case and your car’s tires may soon be made from renewable, plant sugars