Alternative Sources

 
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Students learn to discuss the need for alternative sources of the compounds presently obtained from the petrochemical industry

Your thoughts...

Is there a need for alternatives to the classical petrochemical industry for many common compounds?

If there is a need, can we find new ways of synthesising the same chemicals we currently use?

Or do we need to develop entirely new materials, based upon completely different resources?

We live in a crazy world...

Unfortunately, though there is plenty of petroleum around to meet our plastics needs, people will insist on burning the stuff.

In fact, a back-of-the-envelope estimate of plastic use gives us thousands of years' worth of petroleum for use as plastics, but only a couple of decades' worth of petroleum if we keep burning it as a fuel.

Do you to take a car to school? Why not stay home instead, and help the environment? If every student in New South Wales sent us a cheque for $10, we could put the entire HSC science syllabus on this site and we could all telecommute! (Make cheques out to: Polymer Scientists Retirement Fund Key Centre for Polymer Colloids)

A number of scientists have been fascinated by the sorts of questions we put to you above. Over the past twenty years (or more!) they have tried many different approaches to trying to solve these problems. Often, the complexity and expense of the alternatives has made them uneconomical and they have failed to become widely adopted. However, rising world oil prices are slowly changing the economics of the situation, and soon these alternatives may become not only viable but mainstream.

Possible sources should ideally be renewable, and accessible - comets and the atmosphere of Jupiter may be inexhaustible sources of carbon, but the energy costs of bringing the material here are still prohibitive. The obvious solution is to exploit the ability of living systems to turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into a bewildering number of carbon compounds.