In 1950, the world’s 2.5 billion people produced 1.5 million tons of plastic. In 2016, our population of over 7 billion people produced more than 320 million tons of plastic. This number is expected to increase, and perhaps even double, by 2034.
We use plastic because it is a strong, light, cheap material that provides barriers to water, oil, grease, air, etc. These properties are essential, especially for packaging and healthcare applications. But most plastics take hundreds of years to degrade, and most are not recycled properly, if they can be recycled at all. Plastic enters our environment and oceans, resulting in negative effects on wildlife, habitat, tourism, economies, and human health.
We need solutions to the plastic crisis. We need alternatives that are exceptionally less harmful to our planet. We need products that are cost-effective, safe, and easy to replicate, while also providing those important water, oil, and air barriers. What if we could give paper similar properties at a similar cost, while keeping all of its recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable properties?
One solution is called chromatogeny, a chemistry process, discovered by Cellulotech’s own Chief Scientist, that gives certain important barriers to cellulose, or paper products. Chromatogeny does not use solvents and is considered a green chemistry process.
Chromatogeny grafts a mono-layer of molecules onto the surface of paper materials. This layer acts as a barrier against water liquids. During the chemical process, fatty acid chlorides react with hydroxyl groups attached to the surface of cellulose fibers. This reaction creates ester bonds, which make the cellulose material completely hydrophobic, or waterproof.
A small amount of HCl is released as a gas byproduct, but in Cellulotech’s process this gas is collected and sold to be used in other chemical processes. The fatty acid ester layer left on the paper is completely harmless to humans; the same components have been found in several natural oils.
Chromatogeny provides paper materials with resistance to water, but oil and air barriers are also possible. The performance of products treated using chromatogeny is similar to that of paper products that are coated with plastic.
This new technology gives a variety of benefits to products and consumers alike:
Cellulotech’s innovative solution preserves the recyclability and compostability of cellulose while transforming its potential for use in a wide variety of markets. Globally, we currently use plastic and plastic-coated paper in many industries – packaging, healthcare, consumer products, etc. Chromatogeny is a viable technique for putting paper, a completely renewable and biodegradable resource, forefront in the search for plastic alternatives.