From weeds to adhesives

The Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC) and the Ethiopian University of Addis Ababa are launching a new project to produce sustainable chemical products from a "weed".

Men and women with light and dark skin colour sit and stand around a red sofa.
The project team is jointly researching the use of the plant Vernonia galamensis for chemically usable products. Source: MPI CEC. -

MPI Director Prof. Walter Leitner is an honorary member of the Ethiopian Chemical Association and initiated the cooperation together with Prof. Yonas Chebude, Head of the Faculty of Chemistry in Addis Ababa. “We are planning reciprocal stays for doctoral students and technical staff at the respective institutes in order to establish contacts and create a scientific and intercultural exchange,” said Leitner.

“Green” chemical products from vegetable oil

Prof. Chebude and his team are conducting intensive research in Ethiopia on the conversion of biomass into chemically usable products. Currently, they are focusing on the plant Vernonia galamensis – actually a plant known as “weed”. The plant, which can only grow on the equator, offers promising properties for industrial production. This is because an oil can be extracted from it that is 40 % “epoxidised”. The molecules here are naturally especially reactive and can therefore be used much better as an industrial raw material than other vegetable oils. The research group is now trying to produce “green” chemical products – such as biodegradable plastics or adhesives – from the oil. This requires catalysts that will be jointly developed in the project.

There is currently no commercial cultivation of the plant, but there is already a high demand for the oil. “If one can prove that sustainable products can be produced from the supposed weeds, this would not only be progress in the field of green chemistry but also a lucrative export product for Ethiopia,” says Chebude.

More information is available on the website of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC).

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