Cellulose: The Organic Polymer Shaping Our Planet

November 14th, 2020 – Every plastic and resin on the planet is a polymer. Quite simply, a polymer is just a series of repeating subunits (monomers). These repeating units are all connected through a process called polymerization.

Over the past few decades, more and more of the things we consume have been constructed by polymers. Cars. Boats. Planes. Packaging. Bottles. Bags. Kitchenware. Decking. Chairs. Toys. Technology. The list goes on and on. If you lift your head up from your screen, you will most likely find at least a few things that are made from plastics. 

Plastics have become commonplace because they are strong and inexpensive. This helps manufacturers produce high quality goods for low prices. One would think that if plastics were strong and cheap, then everything should be made from plastic, right?!

Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. Most plastics on this planet are synthesized from petroleum. In fact, many of the biggest oil companies are also the biggest plastics manufacturers. This means that the process of making plastics is dirty, unsafe, unscalable, and unsustainable. 

Some of the plastics most commonly used across industry include:

  • Polypropylene
  • Polyethylene
  • PVC (Polyvinyl Carbonate)
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
  • Polystyrene
  • PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
  • Nylon

These are the materials that make the plastic bottles we drink out of, the clothes we wear, and the cones that keep us in line on the streets we drive on. 

But, we have to start looking at how these polymers are created, and the impact they have on the planet we live on. 

As we evolve into a more eco-friendly society, we must start looking at biopolymers as a potential solution to the bottleneck in polymer production. Two of the biopolymers that most humans are familiar with are DNA and protein. Unfortunately, these are both expensive and unsustainable in terms of production capacities.

In order to truly understand biopolymers, we must go back to the early days of humankind. 

At around 10,000 BCE, humans shifted from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies. Historians refer to this transition as the movement from the Paleolithic era to the Neolithic era. It was around this time that humans started domesticating plants and animals. 

During this transition period, humans started to create clothing out of wool, cotton, and linen fibers. At the base of all these textiles is the most important biopolymer on the planet: cellulose. These materials protected our ancestors from the sun and various forms of inclement weather. 

As humans continued to build societies, they began recording stories and history on paper. As the base of this reed paper was also cellulose. Without cellulose, and the corresponding agricultural revolution, it is likely that humans would have gone extinct due to harsh winters.

Throughout the past 12,000 years, cellulose has come a long way. Because it is the most abundant organic polymer, its uses have become endless.

  • Cotton is 90% cellulose.
  • Wood is 40-50% cellulose.
  • Hemp is 70% cellulose.

The problem with wood is that a tree takes 7-10 years to grow. The problem with cotton is it takes 5,283 gallons of water to grow 1 kilogram of cotton. These two sources of cellulose take too many resources to utilize at scale. 

This is in contrast to industrial hemp, which takes very little water and maintenance to grow. This is where the opportunity lays.

Cellulose can be turned into:

  • Papers
  • Plastics
  • Textiles
  • Biofuels
  • Building Materials
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Wood Composites
  • Metal Replacements
  • Resins
  • Epoxies

The list goes on and on and on and on.

The team at Heartland Industries believes that by creating the largest cellulose supply chain in America, that we have the ability to enter into any market we choose. As a materials supplier with a daily production of 1.4 million of pounds of cellulose, we have the opportunity to reshape any industry we want to.

Join us on the journey as we utilize cellulose to make a more eco-friendly planet.

– Heartland Team

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