DALLAS, March 16, 2014 A waste product from making paper could yield a safer, greener alternative to the potentially harmful chemical BPA, now banned from baby bottles but still used in many plastics. Scientists made the BPA alternative from lignin, the compound that gives wood its strength, and they say it could be ready for the market within five years.
They described the research here today in one of the more than 10,000 presentations at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, taking place here through Thursday.
"Approximately 3.5 million tons of BPA are produced annually worldwide," said Kaleigh Reno, a graduate student who presented the report. BPA is the component that gives shatter-proof plastic eyewear and sports equipment their strength. Additionally, BPA is used in high-performance glues, in the lining of cans and in receipt paper, she explained. The downside is that bisphenol-A, as it's called, can mimic the hormone estrogen, potentially affecting the body and brain. Some experts have suggested that it's unsafe for young children and pregnant women to consume.
To find a safer, more environmentally friendly alternative, Reno and her advisor, Richard Wool, Ph.D., who are at the University of Delaware, turned to lignin. They note that papermaking and other wood-pulping processes produce 70 million tons of lignin byproduct each year, 98 percent of which is incinerated to generate small amounts of energy.
Reno has developed a process that instead converts lignin fragments into a compound called bisguaiacol-F (BGF), which has a similar shape to BPA. She and Wool predict it will act like BPA, as well. "We expect to show that BGF has BPA-like properties within a year," said Wool, with a product ready for the market two to five years later.
Reno is confident that BGF will be a safe stand-in for BPA. "We know the molecular structure
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