Safer BPA alternative created from papermaking waste

Monday, 17 March, 2014

A safer alternative to Bisphenol A (BPA) has been developed from a waste product from making paper: lignin. Researchers say the BPA alternative could be market-ready in five years.

“Approximately 3.5 million tons of BPA are produced annually worldwide,” said Kaleigh Reno, a graduate student from the University of Delaware, who worked on the project.

Reno worked with Dr Richard Wool, her advisor, to convert lignin into a safer, more environmentally friendly BPA alternative. Papermaking and other wood-pulping processes produce 70 million tons of lignin by-product each year, 98% of which is incinerated to generate small amounts of energy.

Reno developed a process that converts lignin fragments into a compound called bisguaiacol-F (BGF), which has a similar shape to BPA. Reno and Wool predict that it will act like BPA.

“We expect to show that BGF has BPA-like properties within a year,” said Wool, who predicts they will have a product ready for market two to five years later.

“We know the molecular structure of BPA plays a large role in disrupting our natural hormones, specifically oestrogen,” said Reno. “We used this knowledge in designing BGF such that it is incapable of interfering with hormones but retains the desirable thermal and mechanical properties of BPA.”

Because BGF is made from an existing waste product, Reno believes it will be a viable alternative to BPA, both economically and environmentally.

The researchers used US Environmental Protection Agency software to evaluate the molecule to ensure that it is less toxic than BPA.

Reno presented the findings at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas.

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