The Fraunhofer IGB, one of 72 institutes and independent research institutes of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe’s leading organization for applied research, is investigating a sustainable alternative for the production of new high-performance plastics from terpenes found in resin-rich wood. Researchers at Fraunhofer are using new catalytic processes to convert 3-carene into building blocks for 100 percent biobased plastics that are transparent as well as have a high thermal stability.
3-carene, the natural substance, is a component of turpentine oil which is a waste stream of the production of cellulose from wood. Conifers such as pine, larch or spruce provide natural substances. The preparation of pulp involves breaking down of wood to separate the cellulose fibers and isolate the terpenes in large quantities as a by-product, turpentine oil.
Researchers at the Straubing BioCat branch of Fraunhofer IGB, participating in the joint project “TerPa – Terpenes as building blocks for biobased polyamides”, have successfully optimized the synthesis of lactams from the terpene 3-carene and converted them into a scalable, competitive process that can go for industrial-scale production. According to the Straubing experts, terpenes such as α-pinene, limonene, and 3-carene are suitable raw materials for the synthesis of biobased lactams, which are building blocks for the production of polyamides.
Four successive chemical steps are involved in the conversion of 3-carene to the corresponding lactam. According to the patent filed for the Straubing solution, the conversions can take place as a “one-pot reaction sequence” in a single reactor that does not need the purification of the intermediate products.
Paul Stockmann, who developed and optimized the process, said, “We have achieved this by carefully selecting the catalysts and reaction conditions – and it saves time and money.”