4 June 2020

The Second Century of Plastics

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SCI Online Public Lecture - 16.00 – 17.00 (UK Time)

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The very properties of plastics that make them so useful, they are durable and cheap, also means that they are almost worthless post-use, expensive to recycle and easy to discard, so a circular economy for petrochemical plastics will be really hard to implement. Life cycle assessment can identify the tipping point, as the energy system defossilises, when bio-based plastics make sense.  But the fate of a compostable plastic is conversion back to CO2 & water, so they are not the answer.

Could we use durable (i.e. nondegradable) bioplastics to sequester carbon?  Photosynthetic biomass takes billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere and we could bury that plastic.  
In fact, if we converted all the current 300 million tonnes of plastic production to bioplastics using 100% renewable energy, we would be able to remove a billion tonnes of COfrom the atmosphere every year.  And once we’d used it we could collect it and bury it. Negative carbon emissions from plastic production and consumption mean we become heroes again.  We could even put that new plastic down the holes we got the fossilised carbon out of in the first place – wouldn’t that be sweet! 

During this talk, Prof Ryan will look at the second century of plastics and what the future holds.


Professor Anthony J Ryan OBE

University of Sheffield

Tony Ryan is Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield. He focuses on the global challenge of the food-water-energy nexus; feeding a growing world population; reducing the impacts of agriculture and food production; and harnessing the power of the sun for renewable energy. He leads the University of Sheffield's programme in sustainability research, integrating traditional boundaries in the pure and applied sciences, engineering, medicine, humanities & social sciences. Prof Ryan is active in translational research, an advocate of science to both experts and non experts, and has been a regular contributor to TV, radio and print media. He delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2002, whilst he was an EPSRC Senior Media Fellow, and was awarded an OBE in 2006 for 'Services to Science'.

His research covers synthesis, structure, processing and applications of polymers using advanced analytical and measurement techniques. Recent research projects included renewable sources for polyurethane synthesis, organic photovoltaics, maximising the properties of polymers through flow induced crystallisation, formulation of home and personal care products and polymer foams for high intensity urban agriculture. He has co-authored more than 300 papers and patents and 2 books, Polymer Processing and Structure Development and The Solar Revolution: One Planet, 10 Billion People, One Solution.

He holds a BSc and PhD from the University of Manchester and a DSc from UMIST. He held a NATO Research Fellowship at the University of Minnesota, was a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader in Materials Science at The University of Manchester was and seconded to the Synchrotron Radiation Source at Daresbury. In 1997 he moved to Sheffield and served as Head of Chemistry before serving as the Pro Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Science from 2008 to 2016.

16.00 – 17.00 (UK Time)
This is a free online lecture

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