Nylon polymer chemistry chain

New Process Produces Nylon From Plant Waste

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Source of Above Image: Science Struck

64% of our clothing today comes from synthetic, plastic materials. Amongst polyester and spandex, another prominent synthetic material that we see all the time in our closets is Nylon.

First launched commercially by DuPont in 1938, Nylon was originally manufactured for toothbrushes. The nylon stocking entered the market shortly after in 1940. Fast forward into 2020 where two million tonnes of the fabric are now globally produced each year.

DuPont Nylon Ad from 1940s

                                           Image Source: Fine Art America

While the post-life of synthetic materials is more widely discussed these days (micro-plastic pollution, methane emissions from sitting in landfill sites, non-biodegradable properties) I feel like it’s not as common to talk about their origin. And those impacts.

The key component of nylon is called Adipic Acid. That’s hard to read if you often mix your d’s and p’s like me. Traditional manufacturing of ADiPic Acid produces large amounts of nitrous oxide due to its reliance on fossil fuels.

Nitrous Oxide: A greenhouse gas that is 300x more powerful than carbon dioxide. 

And I thought Methane was bad.

Scientists over at the University of Edinburgh identified a process where bacteria can be programmed to help make nylon from plant-waste instead.

Allow me to nerd out on this science project.

First, they altered the genetic code of the common bacteria E.coli in the lab. Oh, we know E.coli, don’t we @chipotle? Then they grew these modified cells in liquid solutions that contained the plant-waste, Guaiacol. After 24 hours of incubation, “the modified bacteria transformed the guaiacol into adipic acid, without producing nitrous oxide,” according to Science Daily.

That’s a lot of science and I almost failed Bio.

Samesies. I guess we can simplify using a quote from one of the PhD student researchers, “It is the first time adipic acid has been made directly from guaiacol, which is one of the largest untapped renewable resources on the planet. This could entirely change how nylon is made.”

Got it.

Fashion is the second most polluting industry on Earth. Therefore any instance where we can eliminate greenhouse gases while using alternative renewable sources (i.e. plant-waste) within its supply chain is incredible. The question now becomes, how long will this take to scale?

with lots of love for the planet,

the sustennial

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