Performance is more important than maximizing biobased content: ORNL

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In Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has prioritized performance over renewable content in its efforts to develop a thermoplastic based on lignin. ORNL originally set out to make a 100% biobased material, but found that higher lignin content created polymers with properties that fell short of their petroleum-based counterparts. The lab instead replaced the styrene in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene with lignin, creating a 50% biobased polymer with improved toughness and recyclability.

Amit Naskar, ORNL’s Carbon & Composites Group Leader, tells Lux Research ORNL’s lab can produce 25-250 grams via batch processing. Adapting the production process to use different lignin sources has been a prime focus of ORNL’s efforts for the past 6 months, and ongoing work also includes reinforcing the polymer matrix with carbon fiber.

Naskar says ORNL hopes to find industrial partner within the next 6 months to help commercialize ABL under a licensing agreement. Early commercial targets include automotive and other engineering plastic applications. “[T]hen, when everyone is paying attention, we will figure out how to make it 100% renewable,” Naskar adds.