Focus of bioplastics - News & Developments

Excerpt: Here are the news & developments from the world of Bioplastics

Amut Group and Natureworks join hands to develop biopolymers applications

AMUT has started its collaboration with NatureWorks for extrusion and thermoforming food contact approved processes. NatureWorks is a world-leading biopolymers supplier which turns greenhouse gases into a portfolio of polylactic acid (PLA) performance materials called Ingeo.

Since 2015, NatureWorks has partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to support the foundation's New Plastics Economy initiative, which is a comprehensive strategy for creating a global plastics system based on circular economy principles.

AMUT-COMI tested Ingeo PLA on its thermoforming machines using rolls provided by Coexpan company. COEXPAN is the Grupo Lantero division specialized in the manufacture of rigid plastic foils and thermoformed products providing packaging solutions at a global scale. The results were good: serviceware made with Ingeo well performs in hot and cold applications.

Other tests scheduled will involve AMUT/EREMA extrusion line now proposed for r-PET foil food contact approved production. AMUT and EREMA are working together to offer a similar technology also for PLA treatment through a direct extrusion process.

Ingeo PLA is a thermoplastic material that shows high transparency, glossy and tear strength comparable with other thermoplastic materials such as PS or PP. It is easy to shape and has multiple end-of-life options including composting and recycling. The foils in made PLA assure a high food flavour and aroma preservation, making them ideal for items that require a higher product protection.

ACF820 thermoforming machine.

Therefore, using the PLA material for packaging applications not only boost environment preservation but also ensures the maximum quality and efficiency of the products. During CHINAPLAS 2019 held in Guangzhou, AMUT-COMI ran the ACF model thermoforming machine with Ingeo PLA foil at the booth.

NatureWorks focuses on functional extensions of Ingeo bioplastics

NATUREWORKS showcased the latest functional innovations for Ingeo at CHINAPLAS 2017, putting the extension of applications of the material under the spotlight. NatureWorks is one of the world's leading suppliers of bioplastics, and Ingeo is a naturally advanced plastic made from renewable resources.

“The market is more aware of the applications of bioplastics, therefore NatureWorks develops new grades to speed up the process,” explained Mark Vergauwen, Global Segment Lead, Rigids.

At the show, the company featured the results of the investments it's making to support the functionality needed for compostable coffee capsules. For several years, NatureWorks, compounders, converters and coffee companies have engaged in comprehensive research efforts using Ingeo to solve the many technical challenges. These technical challenges include making the capsules that meet temperature, pressure and filtration requirements yet are still compostable, according to Mark Vergauwen.

The opportunity to replace PS for dairy packaging

“Another area that Natureworks is actively creating the awareness is the opportunity to replace polystyrene (PS) for form, fill and seal (FFS) dairy packaging,” said Mark Vergauwen.

The company thus illustrated the latest Ingeo-based transparent packaging for FFS diary and dessert packaging. These FFS cups have high transparency, provide stiffness, and source less material than PS.

New game-changer for flexible packaging

NatureWorks showcased new high barrier property films as well. The new and game-changing Ingeo-based EarthFirst UL is an ultra-thin, bio-based sealant web used for flexible packaging. It lowers the cost of sealant films used while offering environmental advantages, which is ideal for food packaging applications using single-serve pillow pouches, coffee frac-packs, gusseted stand-up pouches, frozen foods and multi-wall bags.

In addition, when compared to LLDPE, EarthFirst UL forms superior seals at lower seal initation temperatures. Its naturally high dyne levels make it excellent as a laminate to PET, metPET, PP, Nylon and paper substrates. It has an effective aroma barrier, grease-resistant attributes, and is available in 9, 12 and 15 micron gauges (.36mil, .48mil and .6mil).

For development strategy, NatureWorks is strengthening its cooperation with downstream manufacturers and brands. “It is difficult for material suppliers to develop all the commercial applications by its own, therefore collaborations across the supply chain is very important,” concluded Ian K.W. Toh, Commercial Director, Asia Pacific.

Designers argue for and against bioplastics

BIOPLASTICS could potentially be worse for the environment than conventional plastics, according to recycling expert Arthur Huang. Switching to plastic made from plants instead of fossil fuels would require vast amounts of farmland, Huang said. This could could cause environmental problems and deprive humans of food.

Huang, founder and CEO of circular-economy engineering company Miniwiz, added that bioplastics can cause damage when they are composted. They make soil and water more acidic, he claimed, potentially polluting both land and ocean.

“If we use them the same way [as conventional plastics] they are just as bad if not worse,” he said. “They change the pH value of soil and water as they degrade, and they take away valuable food supplies,” he said. Huang cited a United Nations report from 2015 that raised concerns that the public would recycle less if they thought the plastic they used would harmlessly degrade if discarded. An architect and engineer, Huang has pioneered techniques for recycling plastic. In 2017 he collaborated with Nike to design sneaker packaging made from recycled drinks containers.

PLA is compostable, not biodegradable

Polylactic Acid (PLA), the most common type of bioplastic, is made from fermented starch extracted from crops such as corn, potatoes or sugar cane. It can also be made from algae. PLA is compostable, meaning microbes will break it down harmlessly into biomass and gas within a few months, given the right conditions. They are not biodegradable, since under normal conditions they will break down just as slowly as conventional plastics.

However since PLA is an acid, it will raise the acidity of its surroundings as it composts, according to Huang. “It's like us dumping lots of orange juice into the ocean, or the mouth of a river,” said Huang.

Ocean plastic “an aesthetic problem”

Huang made the comments at the judging of the Ro Plastic Prize in Milan last week, during a jury discussion about the relative merits of bioplastics and fossil-fuel plastics. The competition, launched to encourage the recycling of plastics, saw prizes awarded for products, fabrics and innovations. Huang challenged the idea that bioplastics were inherently better than plastics derived from fossil fuels.

Conventional plastic that gets into the soil or the ocean is largely an aesthetic problem, he argued, since it is non-reactive and causes no physical harm to ecosystems. The argument could even be made that plastic waste is an effective method of carbon storage, since it is difficult for conventional plastic to break down enough to release its carbon.

Bioplastic architect refutes claims

Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani contested Huang's statements. “It's a very, very clean material,” said the French architect, who built a pavilion out of 3D-printed PLA for fashion brand COS as part of Milan design week recently.

“It's 68 per cent more carbon efficient in terms of carbon emissions than conventional plastic. It's 50 times less toxic when it comes to fumes, which is very important when you 3D print it in your office.”

Mamou-Mani disputed the claim that composted PLA lowers the pH value of water or soil, making it more acidic. He cited an experiment where lettuce plants had been grown in PLA compost. “They tested the acidity and the salad was perfectly fine,” he said.

To turn PLA into compost, “you need to put it in an industrial composting facility,” Mamou-Mani said. “You need 60 degrees Celsius and 100 per cent humidity and then it decomposes within a month. You can put them in a home composter and then it takes about six months as the temperature is a bit lower.”

Recycling better than composting

A better solution is to recycle bioplastics instead of composting them, Huang said. “If we switch the name and recycle it seriously and stop single use, that could be a good solution. Single-use is where all the problems begin.” Last year curator Jan Boelen told Dezeen that moves to promote recycling of fossil-fuel plastics were “bullshit” and designers should instead develop bioplastic alternatives.

Aakar Innovations bags 'Bio-based Material of the Year 2019' award

AAKAR Innovations Pvt. Ltd., a Navi Mumbai-based company, has won the first prize in the 'Bio-based Materials of the Year 2019' awards granted to the young, innovative bio-based chemicals and materials industry. The award is sponsored by German companies InfraServ Knapsack, and organised by nova-Institute, both located in Hürth, Germany.

Aakar Innovations has innovated 'Anandi Eco+' – 100% compostable sanitary pads – the first and only Government of India Lab certified 100% compostable sanitary pad. In a compost environment, at least 90% of the pad is biodegraded within 180 days, while under other conditions in nature it takes longer. The pads can be disposed easily in the backyard mud pit of any rural household, to avoid polluting the environment and create bio-manure for agriculture.

Aakar also uses local resources like starch, jute, bagasse, banana fibre and water hyacinth to produce their sanitary pads to reduce cost and utilises agricultural plant waste materials. 'Anandi Eco+' pads do not use any chemicals like super absorbent polymers (SAP) and converts into manure post-disposal, which can be further utilised. This way, the pads contribute to environmental protection and increased resource reuse. It also follows the Compostable American Standard ASTM D6400 & European Standard EN 13432. Decentralised production is carried out by women in India and soon in various African countries using regional raw materials.

Sustainable cellulose-based textile fibre

The second prize was bestowed on Spinnova Oy (Finland), for Spinnova – a cellulose-based textile fibre – produced without using harmful chemicals, no waste or side streams. The biggest difference to other man-made cellulosic fibres is that no chemical dissolution takes place throughout the whole process. Spinnova's raw material commitment is to only use FSC certified wood or waste stream-based cellulose. The properties and prices of the new cellulose fibres are based on cotton.

Home compostable coffee capsules

The third place went to Golden Compound GmbH (Germany) for their 'HOMEcap' – home compostable coffee capsules made with natural fibres of the sunflower seed hull. The capsule was successfully launched on the market in the spring of 2019. It comes with a paper and cellulose based lid, which is sealable to the capsule without any additional glue, and is home compostable as well. The material composition results in low oxygen transmission rates, which allows avoiding of additional barrier packaging and waste. A sustainability assessment showed that this capsule outperforms current state-of-the-art capsules like deep-drawn PP EVOH multilayer capsules in terms of sustainability.

Korvaa headphones from bioplastics

FUNGUS, yeast-based bioplastic and other materials grown by microbes have been used to make the Korvaa headphones, designed by Finnish studio Aivan in collaboration with scientists. Korvaa headphones which features six different microbially grown substances were designed to showcase the potential of the technology known as synthetic biology, or “synbio” for short.

This discipline fuses engineering with biology to channel natural processes into such uses as fabricating materials, producing energy and treating illness. Working with scientist from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University, Aivan wanted to demonstrate the fabrication side of this science in the form of a three-dimensional object.

The team chose headphones because of the variety of materials they contain — from hard plastic to pliable mesh and leathery soft textile. The rigid plastic frame of the headphones is a petroleum-free bioplastic grown using the lactic acid in baker's yeast (scientific name saccharomyces cerevisiae). This polylactic acid (PLA) polymer is biodegradable and can be used for 3D printing, which is how the Korvaa component was fabricated.

The padding that sits over the ears is produced by a fungus called trichoderma reesei, dubbed “nature's strongest bubble-maker” by the team at Aivan. It grows cells into the air, making a foaming protein called hydrophobin. Synbio researchers mix it with plant cellulose to keep the structure stable, though soft.

Covering the foam is mycelium — the branching, root-like part of a fungus that has elsewhere been used for clothing and architecture. In this case, the fungus is phanerochaete chrysosporium, and it has a leathery texture that is meant to sit comfortably on the ears.

Headphones also require a mesh-like cover for the speakers. In Korvaa, this is provided by a microbially produced protein based on spider silk, one of the toughest substances in nature. The biosynthetic version of the silk used here can also make bulletproof vests.

Synbio researchers collect the fine fibres into a larger structure using electrospinning, in which a negatively charged extrusion tip shoots the material onto a positively charged plate. Other parts of the headphones are cellulose — the primary structural material in plants, but produced faster by microbes and enzymes — and a cellulose-mycelium composite. In their current form, Korvaa won't replace anyone's trusted set of headphones. They are purely a concept that explores the future of product design.

KTU scientists create Biodegradable plastics for food packaging

A group of scientists at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Lithuania have created biodegradable plastic, which decomposes in a compost bin in a couple of years. Bioplastic created at KTU is transparent and all the materials in its composition are suitable for contact with food.

Globally, the amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity. Only 9% of it is recycled, and the rest is slowly degrading in the landfills. The plastic disintegration process takes from several hundred to a thousand years; during that time plastic is disintegrating into microplastic particles, which get into the ground water and from them, into our food and environment. It is estimated that by 2050 in our oceans there will be more plastic than fish.

A team of researchers from the KTU Faculty of Chemical Technology have created a fully-compostable packaging for food products from bioplastic, which disintegrates with the help of microorganisms.

“We are used to getting sandwiches, snacks, pastries, sweets and many other products in a paper bag with a plastic window. With a clear window on the front face, the products in the bag can be viewed easily. Although paper is biologically degradable, it is complicated to separate paper from plastic, and the package is considered non-recyclable and non-compostable. However, if we made the window from biodegradable plastic, it could be composted. Moreover, we could even use the bag for collecting biodegradable waste and put all into the compost bin together,” says Dr. Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, the lead researcher of the team.

“There are plenty of microorganisms in compost and they digest our plastic very well,” says Dr. Danilovas. Compostability is a characteristic of a product that allows it to biodegrade under specific conditions under the influence of microorganisms. According to EU standards, in industrial compost centres, which sustain a temperature of 580 C, bioplastic degrades in half a year. However, in a compost bin at home, the process would take a couple of years.

Bioplastic created at KTU laboratories is made from cellulose—a natural material, the main building block of plant cells' membranes. Usually derived from timber, cellulose is the most common biopolymer found in nature. According to researchers, the main challenge while creating bioplastic is not only to make it degradable but also transparent, as this quality is often required by customers.

“Usually, to become fluid plastic needs to be heated. However, if you heat paper (which is also based on cellulose) it will not only not become liquid, but will also burn! We are excited to have found composites which not only allow cellulose to turn into fluid condition but also are non-toxic, which is very important in all products related to food handling,” says Dr. Danilovas.

He admits that being environmentally-friendly has its cost—the biodegradable package created at KTU is several times more expensive than usual. However, the growing number of eco-conscious users is encouraging industries to take an interest in biodegradable packaging alternatives.

Injection Molding Firm Steinwall Goes Bioplastics

STEINWALL has put years of R&D into learning to design and mold with biopolymers and natural-fiber reinforcements. The firm has put about five years of R&D into working with biobased PLA resins and natural fibers from sources such as wood, flax, hemp, rice hulls, coconut and agave (the cactus from which tequila is made). “We've learned some critical things,” revealed Jeremy Dworshak, director of business development for Steinwall, Inc., a $25 million custom injection molder in the Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids.

“However, we and others in the industry are at a mid-level understanding of product performance and processing with these materials.” says Dworshak.

Some of that knowledge was shared at last month's SPE ANTEC in Detroit, where Dworshak co-authored a paper on “Injection Molding Processing of Bio-Based & Bio-Filled Resins.” It identified some basic design principles, such as the need to reduce stress concentrators in PLA molded parts, which tend to be more brittle than conventional thermoplastics. The paper also suggests some ways to design snap-fits with natural-fiber filled PLA.

Another aspect of the ANTEC paper deals with processing of fiber-reinforced PLA. Key concerns are managing the heat and shear sensitivity of both PLA and natural fibers, notes Luke Buerkley, Steinwall processing engineer. Low fill speeds were used in the study, though this required compensating with higher hot-tip gate temperatures to prevent freeze-off.

One other point noted in the paper is that noncorrosive mold materials such as stainless steel are typically recommended for molding PLA, out of concern that thermal degradation during processing could result in release of lactic acid. “Our processing procedures mitigate this effect,” notes Buerkley, so the company is confident that standard mold steels are adequate for molding PLA. Founded in 1965, Steinwall operates a 245,000 ft2 plant that employs 170 and runs over 55 injection machines from 30 to 1750 tons. It is currently producing two commercial parts in PLA with bio-fillers.

Study investigates leaching of PFAS by Compostable Food Containers

COMPOSTING and compostable food packaging have become an environmentally friendly trend that aids in reducing waste that would eventually go to a landfill or be incinerated, but it may not be all that it's cut out to be, according to new research. Food containers that are compostable might be leaching polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into the environment, detailed a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

The researchers from the American Chemical Society found that the PFAS used in food packaging were found to be leaching from the containers and into the compost. Previous research on PFAS has linked long-chain PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) to negative health effects, motivating companies to switch to short chain PFAS.

Currently, there is not much research on the health effects of short chain PFAS.

The paper explains that PFAS end up in composted material because “some PFAS degrade microbially to persistent perfluoroalkyl acids, which include perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids. Therefore, biological degradation processes in wastewater treatment plants and composting processes often lead to an increase in PFAA concentrations.”

To understand impact of short-chain PFAS in compostable food packaging, the team from ACS took samples from five states—nine from commercial facilities and one from a backyard compost bin—to analyze the leachability of 17 perfluoroalkyl acids. After extracting perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) from the samples and analyzing them using mass spectrometry, PFOA and PFOS were discovered in all of the samples.

Additionally, seven of the facilities that used compostable food packaging had higher levels—while the backyard compost bin had lower levels and did not use the packaging.

“The U.S. EPA is also reexamining PFAS risk assessments and health advisory levels/enforcement standards,” the paper concludes. According to the paper, previous research also found that PFAAs have contaminated an increasing number of drinking water supplies.