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'Green plastic' sees possible future in space travel

Reporter: Paulo Cabral 丨 CCTV.com

12-16-2016 10:55 BJT

A groundbreaking form of plastic was chosen by the US space agency NASA to be used in 3D printers in space. Instead of being made from oil, this "green plastic" is produced from renewable sources. One big advantage of this technology is less need for resupply shipments via rocket ships. 

Brazil is a well know producer of ethanol from sugar cane to replace fossil fuels in cars. But now it's getting attention for using the crop to make another product usually made from oil.

Plastic. And this 'green plastic' - as it's been branded - made by Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem -- was picked by the U.S. space agency NASA and U.S. start-up company Made in Space to be used in their zero-gravity 3D printer on board the international space station. In their first use of the technology, astronauts made a connecting pipe for an irrigation system.

Braskem's innovation director says its clients' plan is to streamline space operations - by limiting costly re-supply missions - and reducing the inventory of spare parts previously kept onboard. 

"NASA and Made in Space, they were looking for a resin, a plastic that would be recyclable, it needed to have high chemical resistance, flexibility and a renewable raw material source," said Patrick Teyssonneyre, Innovation & Technology director, Braskem. 

"So in the future, in the long term they could produce plants, sugar cane in Mars, and use the ethanol from sugar cane to produce this green polyethylene." 

On earth the green plastic is already widely used in packaging - as companies seek to reduce their carbon footprint and promote an environment friendly image.

The green plastic made from ethanol is one example of a sustainable, renewable chemical which is already being used for different industrial applications. But there are other products of this kind in the pipeline that could become part of people's daily lives in the future.

Research in this lab is focused on how to use different kinds of bacteria to turn ethanol and sugar into resins that can then be used, for example, to produce plastic or rubber.

"It's a future when we want to go away from fossil fuels to renewable fuels and also renewable chemicals," said Daniel Koch, research specialist, Braskem.

"When you talk about renewable fuels based on petroleum and here we try to make chemicals that are still basically made from petroleum, we try to produce them from renewable resources, like sugar, cane sugar."

Sustainable technologies are in great demand for the 21st century - be it on Earth or out in space.

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