Diesel Plastics Developed for Military

by : Jenny Mclane

The concern for the depletion of reserved fossil fuel has led scientists all over the world to look for ways to produce energy from sources other than fossil fuel. In the auto industry, car manufactures have partnered with different companies to develop alternative fuels. These partnerships have resulted to the development of bio-ethanol fuel for gasoline engines and biodiesel for diesel engines. These developments though are faced with a problem - there are limited refilling and fuel stations which offer biodiesel or bio-ethanol.

In the search for solutions to the energy dependence issue faced by the United States, a chemistry professor in New York has developed a technology that creates plastic out of biodiesel which can then be converted to biodiesel after use.

Richard Gross, a professor at the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, has taken an atypical approach in the development of biodiesel. He has created a plastic from biodiesel which can be used like an ordinary plastic. The process is not yet as cost effective as it needs to be for it to become commercialized. The Pentagon though has expressed their interest in the technology by providing $2.34 million for further research on the process.

The technology would be of great service to the military since it can provide double duty. First, the "bioplastics" as it is called can be used in packaging goods to be shipped to military personnel and after that it can be used as a fuel for vehicles and automobiles.

The process starts with the use of biodiesel to create bioplastics. After the service of the plastic as a packaging material is over, the plastics are then shredded. The shredded plastics are then immersed in a tank of water where it is subjected to enzymes which breaks it down to its former state, that being a biodiesel. After a period of time, which could run up to five days at most, the plastic will be turned completely back to its former state. Once the enzymes are done with their job, the resulting product, the biodiesel, can then be used in diesel engines or generators that the military uses on their bases.

The enzyme cutinase used in breaking down the plastic to its original state are present in nature. These are made by parasites to breakdown shiny surfaces of tree leaves for example. The production of the said enzyme is done by taking some of the DNA present in the particular parasite which produces cutinase and then spliced it to an E. coli bacterium. E. coli bacteria are known for their rapid reproduction rate.

This means that they can produce more enzymes needed in the conversion of the bioplastics to biodiesel. One issue raised that should be focused on by researchers is to fiddle with the enzyme so that a smaller amount of enzyme will be needed to breakdown the bioplastics to usable diesel fuel. That will then translate to lowering the cost of the technology.

Currently, biodiesel can be used by diesel engines without modification. Some diesel car owners are also using components to get the best out of their biodiesel-powered vehicles.