NEC develops green technology from non-food components

Technology resolves issues on food shortage while addressing demand in electronics industry

Japan's NEC Corporation may have found the answer to the nagging debate between saving the environment without necessarily starving the population. And NEC found the answer while addressing the demand for durable plastic for the electronics industry.

NEC said it has developed a high-performance biomass-based plastic (bioplastic) which can be used in electronic equipment. The bioplastic is made from non-edible plant resources from discarded byproducts in agricultural processes.

Bioplastics, as an alternative to petroleum-based components, have recently been seen as the answer to help reduce carbon depletion. This environmental concern has been described by some as critical to the survival of the planet and its inhabitants. However, the use of plant components, especially the edible ones, to produce bioplastics has added to the debate between saving the environment and providing food for the population.

NEC's answer is to use non-edible plant raw materials.

The next challenge, however, is to produce durable bioplastics for electronic components and equipment.

Used in consumer goods

NEC said plant-based bioplastics have also been used in consumer goods such as stationery, toys and household goods. However, they needed some petroleum-based additives with low plant component ratio yet with poor durability. This cannot be used in the electronics industry.

The bioplastics developed by NEC, on the other hand, is more durable because it is made by combining cellulose, a main component of plant stems, with cardanol, a primary component of cashew nut shells, which achieves a level of durability. It also comes with a high plant composition ratio of more than 70 per cent.

Other bioplastics from other non-edible plants, however, are not yet geared for mass production as the plant resource itself--castor oil--is in inadequate supply, and its characteristics are also not suitable for use in a variety of electronics products.

NEC said it will continue its research on the bioplastics it has developed but they may not find their way into electronic equipment until its 2013 fiscal year.

This newly developed bioplastics will be formally announced at The Chemical Society of Japan/Kanto Branch meeting at the University of Tsukuba next week, on 31 August 2010.

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