A waste product from making paper could yield an alternative to bisphenol A (BPA) and be market ready in the next few years.
Kaleigh Reno, a graduate student from the University of Delaware, told FoodQualityNews.com that it had the potential to be a drop-in alternative to the controversial chemical.
Reno and fellow researchers developed a process that converts lignin fragments into a compound called bisguaiacol-F (BGF), which has a similar shape to BPA.
Time to market
They hope to show the compounds desirable BPA-like properties and that it does not affect the body within a year with a product ready for the market two to five years later.
“Before we synthesize it we need to make sure it is less toxic, less hazardous to human health and still has the desirable properties of BPA,” said Reno.
“We know from previous work on lignin that it is an abundant material. It is chemically aromatic and it is known to provide rigidity and be a high performance polymer.”
Reno and her advisor, Richard Wool, a professor at the University of Delaware, noted that papermaking and other wood-pulping processes produce 70 million tons of lignin byproduct each year, 98% of which is incinerated to generate small amounts of energy.
They described the research at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Reno said they know the molecular structure of BPA plays a role in disrupting natural hormones such as estrogen.
BGF was designed so that it is incapable of interfering with hormones but retains the desirable thermal and mechanical properties of BPA.
They are not the only ones looking at BPA alternatives, scientists at Umass Lowell are working on a substance known as bis(epoxide) of 2,2,4,4-tetramethyl-1,3-cyclobutanediol (CBDO ).
Scientists were looking at CBDO replacing BPA in epoxy resins and said at the time that early results should promise while evaluation was ongoing.
Reno said the team stayed away from other sources such as corn ethanol to avoid competing with food sources.
She said they were working on many things and identified one challenge as being optimising the reaction.
“We have to optimize the process, scale-up the synthesizing procedures, back up our expectations of it not being an endocrine disruptor, prove the environmental properties and answer questions like is the bottle going to hold up if the chemical is put in there.
“This alternative is renewable and it is looking like it has very promising properties to that of BPA in the same processes.”
The researchers used US Environmental Protection Agency software to evaluate the molecule, determining it should be less toxic than BPA.
They also acknowledge funding from the US Army Research Laboratory via a DoD-SERDP grant.