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New polymer made from orange peel oil

Scientists at America’s Cornell University say they have created a polystyrene-like polymer which could be used in packaging, as well as clothing and electronics applications, by combining CO² with a carbon-based compound found in orange peel.

The principal “greenhouse gas”, CO² has been rising steadily over the past 150 years, but the Cornell team, led by chemistry and chemical biology professor Geoffrey Coates, believe they may have found a novel use for it by mixing it with limonene, which makes up 95% of the oil in orange peel.

Coates says by oxidising the limonene into limonene oxide and combining it with CO² using a “helper molecule” catalyst, the team have produced a novel polymer, polylimonene carbonate, with many of polystyrene’s characteristiccs.

Coates says: “Almost every plastic out there, from the polyester in clothing to the plastics used for food packaging and electronics, goes back to the use of petroleum as a building block.

If you can get away from using oil and instead use readily abundant, renewable and cheap resources, then that’s something we need to investigate.”

The scientists hope to move towards commercialisation and are seeking industry partners.