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"Liquid Wood" a Contender To Replace Plastic

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the no-more-starving-bacteria dept.

Earth 226

Ostracus recommends a Christian Science Monitor piece on the 40-year quest to find a replacement for non-biodegradable plastic. One candidate, written off 20 years back but now developed to the point of practicality, is a formulation based on the lignin found in wood. And it turns out there is another strong environmental reason to put lignin to use in this way: burning it, which is its common fate today, releases the carbon dioxide that trees had sequestered. "Almost 40 years ago, American scientists took their first steps in a quest to break the world's dependence on plastics. But in those four decades, plastic products have become so cheap and durable that not even the forces of nature seem able to stop them. A soupy expanse of plastic waste — too tough for bacteria to break down — now covers an estimated 1 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. ...[R]esearchers started hunting for a substitute for plastic's main ingredient, petroleum. They wanted something renewable, biodegradable, and abundant enough to be inexpensive."

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I got liquid woo (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860107)

and it shoots out the end of my wood.

Calling this "liquid wood" (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860127)

Is like calling ethanol "liquid grain." There's a big difference between being derived from a given substance and having the properties of that substance.

Not that this isn't nice and all, but picking science fiction-ish titles for things keeps you from being taken seriously.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (5, Funny)

ptx0 (1471517) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860141)

Also, they have pills to fix this now.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (2, Funny)

andrikos (1114853) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860547)

So this must be woot!

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (4, Funny)

narcberry (1328009) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860611)

I thought that is what the pills were called.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860167)

Liquid wood? Sounds great. Where can I get a strap-on made out of it? Then my girlfriend can pound me in the ass with wood instead of plastic!

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (0)

lastchance_000 (847415) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860227)

And it turns out there is another strong environmental reason to put lignin to use in this way: burning it, which is its common fate today, releases the carbon dioxide that trees had sequestered.

Pardon my ignorance, but aren't we trying to REDUCE the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere? Maybe it's better than burning plastic, but this seems backwards to me.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (2, Informative)

lastchance_000 (847415) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860249)

Ok, I read TFA. I did misunderstand. The effect is to use the lignin so we don't burn it and release the CO2. Mea Culpa. Carry on.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (3, Informative)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860251)

Pardon my ignorance, but aren't we trying to REDUCE the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere? Maybe it's better than burning plastic, but this seems backwards to me.

What they meant (but phrased poorly) was that by extracting the lignin from the wood, the CO2 is kept sequestered inside the lignin, rather than being allowed to escape back into the atmosphere (which is what would happen if the wood were burned or allowed to biodegrade)

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860597)

huh, we are against biodegradable products now?

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (4, Informative)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860717)

To be perfectly honest, I'm against biodegradable products in areas that demand environmental resistance. I'd hate to have a biodegradable roof, for example. ;)

Still, my shampoo being biodegradable is for the best.

To get to the parent's point, biodegradation is essentially rotting, a slow form of combustion. Life forms, just like humans, eat whatever, break down the hydrocarbons and exhaust it as H2O and CO2.

So if the idea is to prevent the release of CO2, the prevention of rotting is a good thing. One CO2 sequestration method often talked about up here is a couple of different plowing methods that tends to keep CO2 in the ground. They're talking about being able to sell them as carbon credits. Some already are. Thing is, those very methods are also good for soil fertilization and preservation, so they're just good business practices depending on the soil; many were already doing it.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (4, Interesting)

gnick (1211984) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860879)

You bring up an interesting issue that's often misunderstood or intentionally ignored by people arguing for a cause using CO2 emissions as their only back-up. If your only goal is to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, you need to:
1) Support our managed timberlands
2) Argue that the trees should be felled as soon as they stop producing ounce-for-ounce as much lumber as could be produced on the same footprint by fresh-planted trees
3) Demand that the trees are treated and used as lumber (rather than paper) and land-filled after use. Or, preferably, preserved and land-filled immediately rather than being trucked around for construction.

The carbon is trapped in the wood, sealed to prevent short-term release, and imprisoned in a landfill. Hey, we can put a park on top =).

This is, of course, a stupid plan, but friendly in terms of CO2 emissions. There is a balance there that's often overlooked by tree-huggers and owl-slashers alike.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (0)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860911)

I don't think rotting is in any sense combustion. Maybe they have some of the same end products, but decomposition is caused by bacteria, fungi, and insects, not energetic chemical reactions.. although individual cells destroy themselves with their own enzymes, that doesn't break down cells like combustion. Maybe you're thinking of rust, which is very slow oxidation (burning)?

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (4, Informative)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860967)

rust though, specifies iron.

And do you really think that just because it's done in a organism/cell that the reaction is any less energetic? Improperly stored grain/hay can get so hot that it ends up combusting from the heat of rotting.

At least according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , cellular respiration [reference.com] is a form of slow combustion [att.net] .

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860259)

Try reading for comprehension.

The common fate today is burning, they want to do something else with it, so it won't just be burnt.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 5 years ago | (#26861145)

But in the same breath, they say that it will make an ideal replacement for plastics because it decomposes... releasing the carbon dioxide. It seems fuzzy-headed.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (5, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860261)

The CO2 that comes from plastic, was pulled from the ground. Without us, it would have stayed there, for possibly an extremely long time.

The CO2 that comes from trees, was already in the air, and only was temporarily pulled out into the tree. On the tree's death, the CO2 would have released (as it rotted, or burned, depending).

So, while looking at the small picture, it's no better. But, zooming out to the big picture, it's a world better.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860875)

No, it would not have stayed there. Oil is being pumped for a myriad of uses. If it weren't going to be used in plastic production, the competing uses (fuel, chemicals, etc.) would eagerly utilize it.

Claiming that it wouldn't be pumped because we now have an alternative to petroleum-based plastic is an empty argument. It would have *no* impact on the amount of oil being pumped; it would simply alter the distribution of oil to other uses.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (2, Interesting)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860943)

That's a non-argument.

So you are saying I should stop turning off my A/C and lights, since someone else would use that electricity anyways?

Should I run my taps 24/7 as well, since someone else would be using that fresh water anyways?

No.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26861087)

The point is, we are not trying to save the environment here. Once oil gets scarce again, it's brown-trousers time for plastics. That the replacement is biodegradable and carbon neutral is just a perk.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

Rog-Mahal (1164607) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860287)

I think the point was that instead of burning the lignin as a waste product, it can be put to use as a plastic substitute. A better question might be what happens to this new plastic when it wears out/is discarded.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

Thinboy00 (1190815) | more than 5 years ago | (#26861063)

melt it down and recycle it. (OR, since the average person is incredibly lazy, throw it in a landfill so you don't have to look at it </sarcasm>)

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (5, Informative)

slarabee (184347) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860327)

My reading of this vaguely written sentence is that lignin is currently being burned. If instead used as a petroleum replacement in plastic-like materials it would not be burned -- at least not until it hits the post consumer trash incinerator.

Is lignin extracted from wood in any other industries besides paper production? Would the paper industry be able to supply enough lignin to replace even a fraction of the plastic currently being produced? Even if it did, sounds like that would simply shift the burning from lignin in the wood fiber to petroleum products.

At the paper mill where I recently worked, the lignin was not burned just for the pleasure of it. The quicky skipping a couple dozen steps process is as follows... The lignin is extracted from the wood pulp by a cocktaail of sodium family chemicals casually referred to as liquor. When loaded with nice potential energy filled lignin, the liquor is referred to as black liquor. The black liquor is piped to the recovery boilers where the lignin burns out leaving nice clean white liquor and a lot of high pressure steam. The white liquor is in closed loop system and goes back to pick up more lignin. The high pressure steam is used on the actual paper machines and drives turbines to provide nearly one hundred percent of the electrical power needed by the entire mill.

Remove the lignin by another process so that it can be used to make 'liquid wood'. Now where will the mill get its high pressure steam? Burning petroleum products just like it does now when there is an upset condition in the supply of black liquor. Lots of natural gas. Lots.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860545)

Or, Nuclear power. There is a new nuclear heat reactor expected on the market in some 5 years. You bury it in the ground, and it reacts in so much as you take heat out. If you stop taking heat, it stops reacting. Anyway, that could replace your energy needs.

http://www.physorg.com/news145561984.html

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (2, Interesting)

ThePeices (635180) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860587)

I think the idea is to build facilities that produce nothing but "liquid wood", so it is a non issue for paper mills. If it can be worked out, and produce proper "consumer friendly" replacements to currently used plastics, then its nothing but a win-win situation. No extra CO2 is being released into the atmosphere, compared to plastic, whatever its eventual fate.

On a side note, people here comment that trees rotting releases CO2 into the atmosphere..while true on a small level, most of it ends locked up into biomass...and at geological timescales, into oil...

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (2, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860777)

I think the idea is to build facilities that produce nothing but "liquid wood", so it is a non issue for paper mills.

That sounds likely. I think that while paper mills are reasonably fussy about their source of wood, a 'liquid wood mill' would be far more liberal in what it could take as an input.

On a side note, people here comment that trees rotting releases CO2 into the atmosphere..while true on a small level, most of it ends locked up into biomass...and at geological timescales, into oil...

Don't rotting trees release other gasses too (methane?) that actually have a far higher greenhouse effect than CO2?

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (2, Interesting)

budgenator (254554) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860775)

I thought the paper industry grow low ligin trees for paper production, if they used higher ligin trees they should be able to supply both demands. The ligin industry might even develop using high ligin trees and consider the paper pulp a valuable by-product.

nothing is ever as simple as in TFA (2, Informative)

Tristfardd (626597) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860997)

You are right when you say lots of natural gas would be burned. Other misconceptions abound. What follows is very abbreviated. The cheap way to make paper is to cook it using the Kraft process. The wood gets chopped into small chunks and cooked in a liquor stew which separates the lignin from the nice fibers used for paper. The lignin holds the cells together and make the wood hard so the tree grows tall. Coming out of the stew the glop gets washed off the fibers. The chemicals used to cook the wood are expensive so the glop containing the lignin (which is bound to some of the chemicals) gets burned. The burning gets rid of the lignin carbohydrates and a stream of chemicals (called smelt) which runs out the bottom of the furnace, goes into a tank of water, comes out in a stream called green liquor, and eventually ends up going back into the cooking cycle. The heat from burning the lignin goes, as slarabee describes, into turbines to make electricity and steam for various purposes. Now, if you don't burn the lignin, you have to use some other source of energy to make that steam and electricity. Second, and the point the article misses completely, how are you going to separate the lignin from the chemicals? Those boilers in paper mills are called recovery boilers because they recover the chemicals. It's the cheapest way to do it. How is going to a more expensive method for chemical recovery and going to a more expensive fuel a good solution for anything? Lignin in a liquid wood would be better than plastic. The value of the liquid wood using lignin, though, would have to be high enough to overcome the above costs.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

fava (513118) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860477)

So by using the lignin as a "plastic" we are in fact sequestering the carbon and preventing it from entering the atmosphere. Sounds good.

One slight problem.

The lignin is burned to provide fuel for the pulp making process, if we no longer can burn the lignin for energy we now have to add a new source of energy to the process. Like fossil fuel.

So the net effect is the same as before, from a carbon cycle point of view.

Before:
      Oil -> Plastic No net carbon increase
      CO2 -> lignin -> Burn lignin -> CO2 No net carbon increase

After:
      CO2 -> lignin -> "Plastic" Net carbon decrease
      Oil -> Burn to fuel plant -> CO2 Net carbon increase

Depending on the efficiencies of the process there may be a slight increase or decrease in net CO2.

The supposed environmental benefits are NOT a valid justification of the process.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

Paua Fritter (448250) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860613)

So by using the lignin as a "plastic" we are in fact sequestering the carbon and preventing it from entering the atmosphere. Sounds good.

One slight problem.

The lignin is burned to provide fuel for the pulp making process, if we no longer can burn the lignin for energy we now have to add a new source of energy to the process. Like fossil fuel.

Or like solar, or like wind, or nuclear, or some other non-carbon based energy source.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860297)

Is like calling ethanol "liquid grain." There's a big difference between being derived from a given substance and having the properties of that substance.

Not that this isn't nice and all, but picking science fiction-ish titles for things keeps you from being taken seriously.

Don't read the news much anymore, huh?

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (3, Informative)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860391)

Not only that, but the biodegradability of such a substance is over-played as well. Take a drive down to the local landfill, dig down quite a bit and you will find that many biodegradable substances that have been there for 20+ years have not really biodegraded at all. This is caused by the fact that the biodegradability of a substance is often dependent on the oxygen available to organisms to breakdown the substance. Thus, if you pack the trash too tightly, you create an anaerobic environment where organisms are less efficient at breaking things down.

What we really need is a better method of disposal, not necessarily creating new kinds of substances.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (4, Interesting)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860507)

...dig down quite a bit and you will find that many biodegradable substances that have been there for 20+ years have not really biodegraded at all

If these substances contain much carbon, that sounds like a good thing from a global warming perspective. Maybe we should change our goals and embrace this.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860649)

That's one of the arguments against recycling paper. In most areas for effective recycling you spend so much energy transporting and treating it that it's much cheaper and better for the environment to put it in a landfill.

Or even burn it to do something useful to heat somewhere or run a power plant.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860633)

Thus, if you pack the trash too tightly, you create an anaerobic environment where organisms are less efficient at breaking things down.

What we really need is a better method of disposal

Ironically, a better method of disposal environmentally would be to toss it out the window. But that is frowned upon for other reasons.

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860605)

    Yes but then, using slapped together made-up words like "science fiction-ish" also detracts from your overall beingtakenseriouslyability factor.

Consider "with titles reminiscent of science fiction"

-Anonymous coward

(with better things to do than register every time he wants to post a reply at some random website)

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

TadGhostal66 (1465463) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860663)

This isn't anything that every science journal hasn't always done. Look at New Scientist, Scientific America, etc. - they all use science fiction-ish headlines to grab readers' attention. Read the article and forget the title, I say. Otherwise, your cynicism might keep you from some good information. And if a catchy, sensationalized title makes more people read an article like this, should we be complaining?

Re:Calling this "liquid wood" (1)

DreamsAreOkToo (1414963) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860739)

Or calling glue "liquid nails."

Hey! That gives me an idea! Lets build a liquid house!

Slashdot reader's anthem: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860135)

Everybody's got something to do
I've got nothing but this empty room
Everybody's got some kind of job
Everybody's got someone to love
Not me, I'm fucking the dog

Everybody's got somewhere to go
I've got nothing but this dirty hole
Everybody's going out tonight
I'm staying here and out of sight
Yea, fucking the dog

I'm living in darkness every day
I'm the devil's son some people say
I'm so far gone I can't be saved
I'm just living day to day
Yea, that's right, fucking the dog

Re:Slashdot reader's anthem: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860309)

I don't have a dog,
You insensitive clod!

More than one type of plastic (2)

name*censored* (884880) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860145)

Will this liquid wood be able to replace the vast number of different sorts of plastic we have today? There are some plastics with some fascinating properties out there, I'd like to imagine that we won't lose those properties forever when oil runs out..

Re:More than one type of plastic (2, Interesting)

Tenebrousedge (1226584) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860203)

The effect of oil running out won't be a loss of those interesting, special-purpose plastics. Where plastics are truly indispensable or irreplaceable, they will continue to be used, although they may be somewhat more expensive.

Where plastics are used unnecessarily, they will be discarded in favor of something else.

Re:More than one type of plastic (5, Informative)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860255)

We *can* create oil, even out of plain CO2 if necessary. We do have the chemical knowledge for that you know.

Making any plastic will be still as easy as it is today : you buy some type of oil-derivative at the store, and polymerisize it. Easy enough.

It will however, be a very costly thing to do indeed : it requires loads of energy. Right now that energy has simply been put in oil long ago, and making most plastics is in fact an exotherm process.

We will still make plastics. Producing them, however, will stop producing energy and start massively costing energy.

So that leaves multiple scenarios open. If we do get fusion operational somehow, for example, plastics will likely be as abundant as they are today, at least for a while. Even if we don't nuclear power is probably cheap enough to provide all those "specialty plastics", maybe even at comparable prices. The mass-market plastic will be the only thing disappearing.

My guess is, we'd replace it by another extremely useful and versatile substance we so massively used before the oil started to get so widespread : Iron. It's only marginally more expensive than plastics (mostly due to the mines' labour cost, there is more than enough iron in the ground to coat the entire earth with it several times). Instead of buying your salami in cheap plastic packaging you'll simply buy it in a can.

Re:More than one type of plastic (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860617)

Firstly, oil won't run out any time soon and secondly, there are vast quantities of coal.

Re:More than one type of plastic (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860667)

there is more than enough iron in the ground to coat the entire earth with it several times). Instead of buying your salami in cheap plastic packaging you'll simply buy it in a can.

Interesting comment. I'd wager that a huge portion of the plastic we make could (and perhaps, should) be replaced with something else. Mind you, we'd have to figure in the hidden costs of health problems and environmental degradation associated with the manufacture, use and disposal of plastics for the price to even out.

As a side note (for those who aren't Italian or otherwise salami afficionados), real salami (not the stuff sold in grocery chains under the same moniker) doesn't require plastic or any other form of packaging. The surface mold protects it just fine while it's hanging in open air while curing, and will protect just fine on the way home from the market.

Re:More than one type of plastic (1)

roguetrick (1147853) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860957)

No poing in replacing plastics right now, as the above poster alluded to. A barrel of crude isn't used for just one product. You can't use one barrel for only fuel and one barrel for only plastics.

Quote from TFA (5, Funny)

Tenebrousedge (1226584) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860147)

"The lignin itself was misunderstood completely by [leaders in the field] and the majority of people," says Simo Sarkanen, an environmental science professor at the University of Minnesota.

Does that sound like a mad scientist to anyone else? "My research has been completely misunderstood, but I will change the world! And then they'll see! They'll pay for their ignorance! MUAHAHAHAHA!"

Quite... (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860511)

He even has a name to match. Well... at least the second part.
Dr. Sarkanen sounds much better than Dr. Simo.

He does look [umn.edu] like he fuckin hates us all for all those wood jokes all these years, though.

Great, now they have to refilm The Graduate (3, Funny)

Quarters (18322) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860153)

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Lignin. Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean? Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in lignin. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Can't come soon enough (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860163)

With peak oil projected to come within a decade, and with prices accompanying the decline to make last year seem cheap, this can't come soon enough. Hopefully, they'll allow the growth of hemp to supply this.

Re:Can't come soon enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860193)

With peak oil projected to come last november, and with prices accompanying the decline to make last year seem cheap, this can't come soon enough. Hopefully, they'll allow the growth of hemp to supply this./blockquote

fixed that for you.

Re:Can't come soon enough (1)

Quarters (18322) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860745)

Last fall's price hikes were caused by trading speculators, the oil industry seeing what the market would reasonably bare in terms of prices, and artificially reduced production. The quantity of raw crude in the ground had nothing to do with it. If price was supposedly some magic quantity predictor for oil we should've run out some time in the 80's. The late 70s/early 80's price hikes at the gas pumps were, when adjusted for inflation, far worse than what we went through the past 12-18 months.
If, as by your assertion, 'peak oil' was reached last November then how do you explain the price drops since then? If we have really passed 'peak oil' then the price should continually rise as the supply diminishes.

Re:Can't come soon enough (1, Interesting)

Quarters (18322) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860373)

"Peak Oil" has been projected to come within a decade for the past three decades.

Re:Can't come soon enough (1)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860535)

wait. when did peak oil move its date again? this is liek the third time.

Next step (5, Funny)

jmknsd (1184359) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860169)

transparent aluminum.

Re:Next step (1)

kohaku (797652) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860417)

Definitely, and we won't need to put any money into R&D either! Who cares if we lose a couple whales?

Old news (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860437)

It already exists [wikipedia.org]

Re:Next step (3, Interesting)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860659)

We already have transparent aluminium. It is commonly known as saphire and your wrist watch 'glass' is made from it.

EPIC FAILURE! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860171)

Where is Lenny you fuckers!?

Re:EPIC FAILURE! (2, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860275)

This weekend was a tentative release date [debian.org] , jackass.

Transparent aluminum ? (1)

stevedmc (1065590) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860173)

I guess transparent wood comes before transparent aluminum.

Lignin used to be the same way (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860185)

Once upon a time, when woody plants first evolved, there was nothing that could break them down. As a result, dead trees piled up hundreds of feet deep all over the world until bacteria evolved that could finally eat the stuff. This went on for long enough to leave the huge amount of coal that is still buried today.

I would hope that some form of bacteria will develop the ability to eat various forms of plastic, as that's the only way that trash island is ever going away...

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (4, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860239)

Yea, these alarmists just like scaring people. The biosphere will evolve to deal with any problems we create today. This means that there's hope for our great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grand children after all.

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (2, Insightful)

Rhapsody Scarlet (1139063) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860281)

Yea, these alarmists just like scaring people. The biosphere will evolve to deal with any problems we create today.

Not sure whether this comment was meant seriously or not, but it is pretty much a given that the biosphere will evolve to take care of the mess we've made someday (it's been through worse already). The only question is whether we'll be around to see that happen, or if we'll have all died off before that time.

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (1, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860323)

I'm kind of hoping that we will have removed ourselves from the area before that happens. I like to hope, you know.

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860499)

What, the large numbers of "great" in that post didn't tip you off that I was being ironic?

Great Pacific Garbage Patch (4, Informative)

j1m+5n0w (749199) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860257)

For the benefit of the curious reader, here's some more information on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [wikipedia.org] that you (and the summary) mention.

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860375)

Given that broken down plant matter is what trees mainly grown on, I ask you which came first? The bacteria or the tree?

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (5, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860385)

There are already bacteria that can attack certain plastics(using an enzyme appropriately called "nylonase". Fairly quick work for a chemical that didn't exist until 1935. Shockingly enough, team creationism doesn't approve).

The trouble, though, is those situations where plastics are destroying some part of the ecosystem far faster than organisms can evolve to clean them up. In the Great Pacific Garbage patch, for instance, the plastic is entering the food chain at an impressive clip and annhilating seabird populations. I'm sure the bacteria will have something figured out within a couple of centuries; but they might not have all that much company when they do.

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860871)

team creationism doesn't approve

Well duh. Of course God created things that can eat plastic, after all, He created plastic too!

Re:Lignin used to be the same way (3, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860707)

Coal wasn't made from trees. Coal was made from the seed pods of ferns - unimaginable quantities of ferns and seed pods, over millions of years. The really interesting thing though is taht coal occurs in multiple seams with millions of years of intervening time. So the tropical rain forest climate that was needed for the ferns to grow, happened multiple times and therefore can happen again.

Repurposing excess plastic... (2, Interesting)

Bagels (676159) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860237)

Plastic is a petroleum product. Can the conversion process be reversed? At what point does that million square miles of plastic gook start to look like a mine-able resource and not simply pollution? Certainly it could be recycled into new products, too.

Re:Repurposing excess plastic... (3, Insightful)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860363)

The stuff that's floating around there is much, much harder to extract and use (it's tiny particles suspended in water) than the stuff we are still dumping every day. If we can't even be bothered to recycle all plastics and organics when they are in big trucks, what makes you think it's economical to do it halfway around the world, filtering millions of gallons of water to get at it?

here's your answer (3, Informative)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860425)

http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Ocean/Ocean-Plastic-Landfill-Algalita1nov02.htm [mindfully.org]

I am often asked why we can't vacuum up the particles. In fact, it would be more difficult than vacuuming up every square inch of the entire United States, it's larger and the fragments are mixed below the surface down to at least 30 meters. Also, untold numbers of organisms would be destroyed in the process. Besides, there is no economic resource that would be directly benefited by this process. We have not yet learned how to factor the health of the environment into our economic paradigm. We need to get to work on this calculus quickly, for a stock market crash will pale by comparison to an ecological crash on an oceanic scale.

Re:Repurposing excess plastic... (2, Insightful)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860697)

Certainly it could be recycled into new products, too.

That elicits the image of a dog chasing it's tail.

Sure, you can take steps to mitigate problems, but it seems, at least to me, more reasonable to address the root of the problem. Which is too much fucking plastic.

The OPEC cycle (2, Insightful)

Vandil X (636030) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860247)

I find it amusing that any time someone proposes using an alternative to petroleum-based products, that proposal always gets turned down and slammed for being more expensive, etc. than using petroleum...

...then we get back to petroleum products causing issues (environmental and economic)... and the cycle renews itself.

Curse you OPEC and the lobbyists you have in our elected government.

okayyy... soooo...... (0)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860289)

Okay, so we're going to grow trees to make "lignin plastic" and then the stuff is going into landfills where it will biodegrade and will release CO2. How is this better?

Re:okayyy... soooo...... (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860351)

Because the CO2 was pulled out of the air to grow the trees. We aren't creating MORE CO2 in the atmosphere, we're just moving whats already there.

Using petroleum (that's drilled for, not created from carbon... which we CAN do, it's just expensive) pulls CO2 out of the ground, and leaves it out. This raises the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere relatively permanently.

Re:okayyy... soooo...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860491)

Don't you mean carbon from the ground, not CO2?

Re:okayyy... soooo...... (2, Informative)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860793)

Pendantics... yes. The O2 comes from the oxidation while it burns.

That said, the plants take the actual CO2 from the air, use the O2 in their metabolism, and use the C for structure. They also use the H from the H2O, but that gets rebonded with the O2 and released, they don't keep it.

Re:okayyy... soooo...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860355)

Its the same reason we want to replace ALL petroleum based products with plant based products. The CO2 from petroleum based products has been trapped for millions of years. This CO2 being trapped is part of what created the biosphere we currently enjoy (and are well adapted for). If all of this CO2 is released we see climate change (as we are) which will result in a different biosphere. Most likely one for which we are much less suited.

With plant based products on the other hand, they are using CO2 from the atmosphere. So when these products breakdown and the CO2 is re-released, there is a zero net addition of CO2 to the environment.

Re:okayyy... soooo...... (4, Informative)

Upaut (670171) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860415)

Okay, so we're going to grow trees to make "lignin plastic" and then the stuff is going into landfills where it will biodegrade and will release CO2. How is this better?

This is better because in this case the product is "Carbon Neutral", as in it is releasing CO2 that the plants had used to grow. When we use petroleum products, the CO2 released is from carbon that was taken out of the cycle and buried deep underground... Now eventually it would even out in a few millennia... The Earth had handled this carbon before... But the Earth would not be the climate that we as humans are used to... The ecosystem using that much carbon had far more plant growth... As such much, much more Oxygen in the air. Which in turn can support much larger animals. Especially insects.... A warmer, oxygen-rich, swampy environment.

THESE PEOPLE DON'T BELIEVE IN DOCTORS... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860361)

WHAT IS THIS?!...

Now we're citing CSM? Thats a slippery slope...
This news is from May 2006. and since when do we cite the christian science monitor's "innovation" section?
 
Here's an innovation: take your kids to a DOCTOR.

Re:THESE PEOPLE DON'T BELIEVE IN DOCTORS... (-1, Redundant)

kulakovich (580584) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860379)

bump

In my opinion (0, Flamebait)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860365)

Plastic == sequestered carbon Wood == biodegradable == CO2, water, methane == greenhouse gases kdawson == moron

Highly proprietary formula... (0, Troll)

polishengineering (1477571) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860381)

Great. The German's have successfully hidden their highly secretive and potentially Earth saving formula away from the masses and academia where it could be improved for over a decade. I'm for making a buck the same as the next guy, but when you come across something as important and the potential for widespread impact such as this you would think that your better half would take over and get the word out. Imagine if this little alternative plastic company joined forces with the largest paper producer in the US which provided it with an almost limitless supply of this ligin. That would drive the cost down and provide the volume necessary to make a legitimate impact on the market.

hemp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860409)

Why not use hemp plastics? Seems like a damn good idea to me.

hmmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860453)

Don't we already have 'liquid wood'? Some people have been wearing rayon since the 70's....

Hemp as a source of lignin... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860459)

I may be going out on limb, here, but I would not be surprised to discover that hemp is pretty good renewable source of lignin...

Didn't we have this over a century ago? (3, Informative)

kimvette (919543) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860461)

Didn't we have this (plastic made from wood) over a century ago?

It's called cellophane.

Re:Didn't we have this over a century ago? (4, Informative)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860755)

Yup, we also had plastic made from milk, called casein, a long time before the first Bakelite was made.

Liquid Wood sounds good... (1)

malkir (1031750) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860551)

It doesn't change the fact that they are over-felling in the first place... hardwood is extremely energy inefficient and requires toxins to process into paper. While it's good that they are actually recycling one of timbers by-products, but they are still ignoring other easier and more efficient (read: harder to monopolize)hardwood substitutes.

Hardwood is 20-40% cellulose while Hemp is over 70% cellulose.

If this isn't enough, consider the lifespan of hardwood vs. hemp. Hardwood takes tens of years to mature, while the turnaround for hemp is every few months. One acre of hemp produces as much usable material as SEVEN acres of timber.

In addition to paper, hemp can also be used to make biodegradable plastic [hempplastic.com] and has been done for over 50 years. Why is the government so restrictive of a plant with so many clear benefits?

CO2 is *FOOD* to Trees - NOT POLLUTION You Idiots (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860569)

OMFG! Didn't ANY of you people ever take a science class? When did the common understanding of the cycle of life on earth stop being taught? How in the world did Al Gore and all those moronic "environmentalists" take over past scientific FACT...

OK, people, YOU (and ALL animals) breath IN air, containing oxygen (O2), and exhale carbon dioxide (CO2) OH NOES!!! LIFE IS KILLING THE PLANET the stupid people say...

EXCEPT...by God's glory or evolution, take your pick, PLANTS BREATH IN CO2 and plants RELEASE O2...

OMG!!!! It turns out that life on the planet kinda works in a big old circle!!!

You freaking morons out there need to get your heads out of the sand and open up and old school science book!!

CO2 is NOT a pollutant!

By the way...the last *** 10 *** years are now PROVEN to be a cooling cycle (by UN data) and the ice caps are now LARGER than in the 70's.

STOP LISTENING TO ACTORS AND FOOLS AND DO SOME ACTUAL SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.

Re:CO2 is *FOOD* to Trees - NOT POLLUTION You Idio (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860673)

Amen, Bro!

Even the "underground" carbon is known to have once been a part of the atmosphere, to "releasing" it through *whatever* form is just returning the earth to a previous NATURAL level of CO2.

Which of you geniuses out there have the God-like knowledge to tell me the exact, perfect level of CO2...or what the perfect temperature of the earth is?

The environmentalist movement is as ridiculous as the flat-earthers from way back when, or the boobs that thought the Earth was the center of the universe.

Trust me, NOBODY can tell anybody what the "right" temperture or CO2 level is. Franly, if the earth warmed a little, big deal! We will NOT flood out, but we will have longer growing seasons. yeah yeah yeah...blah blah blah...this area will become a desert, blah blah blah...so another area will become tropical. It was all different i nthe past, before man, too..so who are you to say what we have right now shold stay the same.

Arrogance and foolishness, all of it.

RELEASE THE CO2!!!! Let's bring back the good old days!

Wooden Roofie (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860715)

Have not read TFA (natch), but going by the title, Viagra is now available drop form. Okay gals, splash a little in your man's beer when he he's not looking, for the ultimate date enhancer. Liquid wood indeed.

Yeah right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860761)

"A soupy expanse of plastic waste ... now covers an estimated 1 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean"

And exactly where is this million square miles? I've never seen it in any satellite photo. What are the Google Earth coordinates? And why would all of the plastic in the oceans flow to just one square area (and why not circular)? All sounds made up scaremongering to me!

Ping Pong Balls (4, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26860783)

Ping Pong Balls are made of celluloid. Plastic made from wood. What is old will be new again...

math problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26860987)

1 million sq miles is 1000 miles by 1000 miles.
seems exaggerated.

just shut up about units. that's 1600 x 1600 km.

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