"Ostracus recommends a Christian Science Monitor piece on the 40-year quest
to find a replacement for non-biodegradable plastic. One candidate, written
off 20 years back but now developed to the point of practicality, is a
formulation based on the lignin found in wood. And it turns out there is
another strong environmental reason to put lignin to use in this way:
burning it, which is its common fate today, releases the carbon dioxide that
trees had sequestered. "Almost 40 years ago, American scientists took their
first steps in a quest to break the world's dependence on plastics. But in
those four decades, plastic products have become so cheap and durable that
not even the forces of nature seem able to stop them. A soupy expanse of
plastic waste — too tough for bacteria to break down — now covers an
estimated 1 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. ...[R]esearchers
started hunting for a substitute for plastic's main ingredient, petroleum.
They wanted something renewable, biodegradable, and abundant enough to be
From the article:
"This past holiday season, nativity figurines made from Tecnaro’s “liquid
wood” raised eyebrows among the bioplastic community. Sold as Arboform, the
tough mixture is chock full of lignin – sometimes more than 50 percent,
compared with the 30 percent threshold where many researchers would max out.
The rest is fiber from wood, flax, or hemp, as well as a few additives.
Raw Arboform consists of dark brown pebble-sized pellets. It is processed
using the same equipment used to make conventional plastic. The granules are
dropped into a barrel and heated until they melt. Then the contents are
highly pressurized and forced into a rigid mold – that of a figurine,
perhaps. As the liquid cools, Arboform actually conforms better than most
plastics to the boundaries of complex molds, says Benjamin Porter, a
researcher with Tecnaro. The 10-year-old, 10-person operation based in
Ilsfeld, Germany, is very secretive about its liquid-wood formula – so
proprietary that Dr. Sarkanen is a little skeptical. In 2001, his lab
patented a simpler lignin-based plastic, one that lacks the secret
combination of additives in Arboform."
So, it's proprietary. But it's possible. :-)