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New Organic Recycling Technology Could Mean Less Plastics, More Jobs

New Organic Recycling Technology Could Mean Less Plastics, More Jobs

By repurposing a common byproduct of paper mills, researchers hope to create a new US industry.

For several millennia now, the plant kingdom has provided our species with all sorts of helpful things — food, shelter, and tools. Trees have been especially generous, giving us lumber and paper and a million everyday items.

The least we can do is be efficient with these gifts. A new recycling technology out of Texas A&M promises to effectively repurpose mountains of waste material from paper and pulp processing plants, while potentially creating a new American manufacturing industry at the same time.

Research published this week in the journal Green Chemistry , the peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, details an improved process for making carbon fiber out of otherwise unused organic waste materials.

Carbon fiber is just that — a mesh of woven filaments made primarily out of carbon atoms. The material has been used since the mid-19th century in many niche markets and is valued for its low weight and high tensile strength. But since the process for making carbon fiber is relatively expensive, the material been largely replaced by synthetic fibers and plastics.

Thanks to a new chemical technique developed at Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research labs, mass production of high-quality carbon fiber could become a new American industry. A waste material from the paper and pulp industry soon could be made into anything from tennis rackets to cars. | The star of this particular show is an organic material called lignin, which is present in plants, trees, and algae all over the world. In fact, lignin is one of the most abundant organic polymers on Earth, and is usually encountered as a fibrous material in stems, bark and wood.

According to the Texas A&M researchers, about 50 million tons of lignin piles up each […]