In Germany, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB are investigating a sustainable alternative for the production of new high-performance plastics from terpenes found in resin-rich wood. The natural substances are available from conifers such as pine, larch or spruce. In the production of pulp, in which wood is broken down to separate the cellulose fibers, the terpenes are isolated in large quantities as a by-product, turpentine oil.
In the joint project “TerPa – Terpenes as building blocks for biobased polyamides”, researchers have succeeded in optimizing the synthesis of lactams from the terpene 3-carene and converting them into a scalable, competitive process on a potentially industrial scale.
“Even on a laboratory scale, our process delivers more than 100 grams of diastereomerically pure lactam monomer per production run. This quantity is quite sufficient for initial investigations of the production and evaluation of the new plastics,” Stockmann said. Other advantages include no toxic or environmentally hazardous chemicals are required for the synthesis of the lactam, they have excellent thermal properties, they use less energy input than fossil fuel derived polyamides, and they are transparent which makes it suitable for visors or googgles.