Potential for Converting Wood into Plastics

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Science  12 Sep 1975:
Vol. 189, Issue 4206, pp. 847-852
DOI: 10.1126/science.189.4206.847


The conversion of wood into chemicals for the production of most of our synthetic plastics, fibers, and rubbers is technically feasible. With refinements in technology a large integrated plant utilizing all components of the wood for production of ethanol (to be further processed to ethylene and butadiene), phenols and furfural would be approaching economic feasibility as well at current petrochemical prices. If crude oil prices continue to climb at a faster rate than wood costs, the economic feasibility of chemicals for polymers from wood would become certain.

Although technical feasibility has not been established, synthetic oils from liquefaction of wood might serve as feedstocks for cracking to chemicals in the same way that crude oil is presently used.

The fulfillment of all our polymer needs from wood as a raw material should not place an impossible burden on our wood supply, but might actually improve the availability of wood for lumber, plywood and pulp by providing a use for less valuable wood which would allow reforestation and improved forest management.