A group of U.S. chemists have ingeniously created a safer and greener alternative to bisphenol-A (BPA) with waste that's produced by papermaking. Their system uses a wood byproduct which mimics the harmful substance—but without causing consumers any harm.
By developing a way to convert lignin, produced when wood is pulped, into "bisguaiacol-F" or BFG, University of Delaware researchers hope to have a rival product on the market in the next five years.
"We know the molecular structure of BPA plays a large role in disrupting our natural hormones, specifically estrogen," said Kaleigh Reno, a graduate student involved in the research. "We used this knowledge in designing BGF such that it is incapable of interfering with hormones but retains the desirable thermal and mechanical properties of BPA."
Though it is banned in baby bottles, BPA is found in everything from can linings to sports equipment. In addition to hormone disruption, it's also linked to the occurrence of cancer and heart disease. A study released earlier this year noted that completely removing BPA from products could save almost $2 billion in health-related costs annually, and that's a conservative estimate.
BGF as a potential alternative was chosen based on a theory which predicts mechanical and thermal properties, according to Richard Wool, a professor at the University of Delaware and Reno's advisor.
"This approach considerably simplifies the design of new bio-based materials since we can predetermine properties and screen for toxicity for a broad range of potential compounds from renewable resources such as lignin and plant oils," Wool said in a statement.
The team's findings were reported at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society this month. They also say that because lignin comes from trees, it is a viable environmental and economic alternative. Seventy million tons of the lignin are produced each year, most of which is incinerated for energy recovery. BPA on the other hand is found in fossil fuel.
It's not the first time the innovative Wool has been involved in making the world a little bit greener. Last year, he developed a vegan alternative to leather. He's also previously constructed computer boards made from chicken feathers and resins made from soybeans.
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