Researchers at Washington State University have developed ways to use olive oil and linseed oil both plant based to develop polyurethane. The plastic material is used for tires, hoses, foam insulation panels, and sealants.
Polyurethane is known to be extremely tough, and resistant to corrosion and wear and tear, but researchers are trying to develop a more ecologically sustainable product than its petrochemicals based counterpart. The production of polyurethane in 2010 was about 14 million tons which is expected to rise by 30% by 2016.
Although some polyurethanes exist that are plant based, the Kessler’s research group used new technique to use vegetable oils to create materials that have more flexibility, shape, and stiffness. Plant oils have the advantage of being readily available, inexpensive, renewable, and can undergo genetic engineering.
For the purpose of the study, researchers used canola, linseed, olive, gape seed, and castor oils. The other research groups have tried using petroleum-based solvents, the researchers at WSU who worked in association with researchers at Cairo University and Iowa University didn’t use catalyst or any kind of solvent in the production.
In the normal process of production of polyurethane, two types of chemicals are combined one of which is polyol having multiple hydroxyl functional group that undergo the reaction. Some oils such as linseed have five or six reactive sites that make the material stiffer as compared to olive oil that makes the material more flexible.
The differentiator and novelty of the research project is these polyurethanes are composed of new chemistry of vegetable oils and castor oil fatty acid.