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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On February 19, 2020, the University of Oulu, Finland, announced that scientists from its Research Unit of Sustainable Chemistry have developed a new synthetic bioplastic that provides protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In addition to its UV-light blocking capacity, the transparent bioplastic made from a biomass-based copolymer with bisfuran structure, the new bioplastic also has airtightness capabilities three to four times higher than polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. The raw materials used in the production of this entirely biomass-based plastic are hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and furfural, which are biorefinery products derived from cellulose and hemicellulose. University of Oulu researchers chemically linked the two chemicals to create copolymer parts with bisfuran and furan-like structures. The research results have been published, and a patent application for the bioplastic has been filed for the new method developed.


 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently released its document "OECD Guidance for Characterising Oleochemical Substances for Assessment Purposes," which is available online. The document seeks to present a "harmonised approach" for characterizing UVCB (substances of unknown or variable composition, complex reaction products or biological materials) oleochemical substances that are derivatives from animal and vegetable oils and fats.


In June 2012, the OECD Task Force on Hazard Assessment endorsed a pilot project to develop guidance on identifying UVCB using oleochemicals/oleoproducts as the pilot chemicals. The development of this guidance was, in part, in response to questions and concerns related to UVCB nomenclature that had been raised by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in response to some UVCB chemical registrations under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation.


Industry stakeholders, including U.S. chemical manufacturers, have expressed concern that if adopted under current regulatory regimes, the newly released OECD nomenclature guidance will require companies to obtain new chemical names for materials that they have used for many years. This, in turn, could trigger the need for new chemical review under EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).


All stakeholders within the biobased chemical space -- even those not directly engaged in oleo-based products -- should carefully review the existing guidance and monitor future OECD work in this arena as it will have widespread ramifications. OECD has already indicated that it will focus on biofuels in upcoming UVCB nomenclature guidance, a development that will have significant implications for the biochemical industry.