The use of renewable resources (biomass) as an alternate source for fuel and the production of valuable chemicals is becoming a topic of great interest and a driving force behind research into biorefinery concepts. In the early parts of the 20th century, most nonfuel industrial products such as medicines, paints, chemicals, dyes, and fibers were made from vegetables, plant and crops. During the 1970s, petroleum based organic chemicals had largely replaced those derived from plant materials, capturing more than 95% of the markets previously held by products from biological sources. By then, petroleum accounted for more than 70% of our fuel. However, recent developments in biobased materials research show prospects that many petrochemical derived products can be replaced with industrial materials processed from renewable resources. Researchers continue to make progress in research and development of new technologies that bring down the cost of processing plant matter into value-added products. Rising environmental concerns are also suggesting the use of agriculture and forestry resources as alternative feedstock. Being able to develop soft nanomaterials and fuel from biomass will have a direct impact on industrial applications and economically viable alternatives. Researchers already have used plant-derived resources to make a variety of soft nanomaterials, which are useful for a wide range of applications.
Today’s biobased products include commodity and specialty chemicals, fuels and materials. Some of these products results from the direct physical or chemical processing of biomass such as cellulose, starch, oils, protein, lignin and terpenes. To exploit the chemical diversity, scientists will need to gain more knowledge of the plant genes and regulating these biochemicals. Also, continuing growth of this industry will depend on developing new markets and cost-competitive biobased products.
In a recent paper titled "Design and development of soft nanomaterials from biobased amphiphiles" Professor George John and Dr. Praveen Vemula present the novel and emerging concept of generating various forms of soft materials from renewable resources. In this account they summarize their continuing efforts in that direction, and a few successful examples from their work. In particular, they explain how one can design and develop soft nanomaterials such as new surfactants, molecular gels, liquid crystals, self-assembled organic nanotubes, twisted fibers and helices. Since, these materials are well known for various applications, generating them from renewable resources could have a significant impact on production technologies and economies.
John, who is Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at The City College of New York, explains his research efforts to Nanowerk: "Intriguingly, by combining biocatalysis with principles of green and supramolecular chemistry, we developed building blocks-to-assembled materials. We foresee that our results will encourage interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists in the fields of organic synthesis, soft materials research, green chemistry and drug discovery to design and develop various biobased functional materials from underutilized plant/crop based renewable feedstocks."
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By Michael Berger, Copyright 2006 Nanowerk, LLC