Ionic liquids boost cellulose as feedstock

Ionic liquids, now being pioneered by BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, for acid scavenging in reactors, also promise to play an important role in expanding the use of cellulose as a chemicals feedstock. That’s the hope of a partnership just announced between the chemicals maker and the University of Alabama (UA), Tuscaloosa, Ala. The arrangement gives BASF exclusive rights to UA patents on using ionic liquids to dissolve, regenerate and process cellulose, and includes a two-year pact for continuing research by the university for BASF in this area.

“This new technology could open up great potential for the use of cellulose as a chemical feedstock for production of plastics and fibers with enhanced properties,” notes Florham Park, N.J.-based Wayne Smith, group vice president of BASF’s Intermediates Group in North America. “This technology enables us to produce blends of polymers and cellulose that provide excellent plastics performance,” says Robin Rogers, director of UA’s Center for Green Manufacturing. “For example, we’ve found that we can produce film blends of cellulose and polypropylene that have exceptional tear strength. This could have great implications for the packaging industry, among others,” he adds.

“Encapsulation and support matrix formation using ionic liquids with cellulose is an exciting area for commercialization that we are exploring,” says Calvin Emanuel, business manager for BASF Intermediates New Business Development unit in North America and co-author of the article on p. 45. Encapsulation of active medical or crop-protection ingredients with magnetic particles enables focused and concentrated treatment, while embedding materials in a matrix creates fibers with extraordinary properties, he notes.

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