From the disposable lids on our morning cup of coffee to bags filled with goodies from our shopping sprees, we interact with plastics on a daily basis. Most of these plastics are now recycled or made from fossil fuels. But that's not how plastics started.
When they were first developed, plastics were made from natural sources. Later, plastics were made from chemically modified materials that were still derived from natural sources. It took until roughly a century ago for fully synthetic plastics to be designed, and synthetic plastics now dominate the market. But increasing concerns over sustainability and depleting petroleum resources have shifted our focus back to plastics derived from natural sources.
When it comes to replacing petroleum-derived chemicals, the Department of Energy has ranked the biomass-derived compounds best suited for the job. At the top of the list is succinic acid, a white, odorless solid. One interesting downstream chemical that can be made using succinic acid is a 4-carbon cyclic chemical called γ-butyrolactone (γ-BL).