07. Making a Biodegradable Plastic

Geoffrey Coates, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and his research group discovered a highly efficient chemical route for the synthesis of the polymer, poly(beta-hydroxybutyrate), PHB. This polymer is a thermoplastic polyester commonly found in some bacteria, where it is formed as intracellular deposits and used as a storage form of carbon and energy. While it shares many of the physical and mechanical properties of petroleum-based polypropylene, it is, however, biodegradable. PHB is currently produced through a costly, energy-intensive biological process. Coates’s chemical route offers a competitive strategy. A long-held scientific goal has been to find a chemical route to a polymer that occurs in nature and that is biodegradable. Coates’s discovery leads to a biodegradable polymer with uses ranging from packaging to biomedical devices.

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