Traditionally, the process to create acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, involves coal tar
Spotted: Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) are developing a version of Tylenol that avoids fossil fuel-heavy processes. Traditionally, the process to create acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, involves coal tar, which is a by-product of carbonising coal.
The researchers use a natural compound derived from poplar trees, offering an environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional production process. Poplar trees produce p-hydroxybenzoate attached to lignin, a molecule with a structure that is very similar to acetaminophen.
The technique, created by John Ralph, Steven Karlen and Justin Mobley, relies on converting the molecule found on lignin into acetaminophen. Unlike acetaminophen, the conversion process involves a series of chemical reactions that are fuelled by biomass instead of fossil fuel.
In the US, acetaminophen is the most common chemical ingredient used in over-the-counter drugs. It is found in over 600 prescriptions, including Tylenol.