LSU AgCenter studies making plastic from sugar cane juices _lowres

Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- By products from sugar cane might be used to make plastics, LSU AgCenter researchers say.

LSU AgCenter researchers are studying how to make plastic from a byproduct of sugar production, an advance that could give sugar cane farmers a stake in the plastics industry and reduce manufacturers’ environmental impact.

Derek Dorman, an LSU AgCenter polymer scientist at the Audubon Sugar Institute, said aconitic acid, found in cane and sweet sorghum juices, is a potential source of biodegradable plastics.

“This acid can be formulated into polyester, or plastic. It is very versatile in terms of how it can be used,” Dorman said.

Because aconitic acid can be harvested from plants, it has less environmental impact when synthesized into biodegradable polyester plastics, unlike plastics produced from crude oil. The acid is extractable from molasses, syrup or mud generated during syrup production.

Researchers at the Audubon Sugar Institute are studying how to synthesize nontoxic, biodegradable polyesters from aconitic acid, cinnamic acid and glycerol, all potential products of the sugarcane and biodiesel industries that can be used as structures in skin and bone-tissue engineering.