Bioplastics

Plastics and bioplastics

Plastics are usually made from non-renewable resources like crude oil or gas. Up to a certain degree, they can be recycled and reused at the end of the usage cycle. Yet, plastics often end up in waste deposits, in the environment or are transformed into energy in combustion furnaces. The incineration causes an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Since a couple of years, efforts have been made to establish plastics from renewable resources in the market. In that context, mostly starch or sugar are used as basic ingredients, which are gained from maize, grain or potatoes. The input of biomass, which primarily serves as foodstuff, leads to a situation in which agricultural land suitable for food crop is used for non-food purposes. As a consequence, the production of bioplastics conflicts with the processing of food crops.

Our goal is to produce bioplastics from non-edible parts of the plant. The basic ingredient is lignocellulosic biomass, which means biomass that contains cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. In that process, the remaining parts of the plant and not their fruits are exploited. Our exclusive technology partner GREEN SUGAR has a unique separation process for lignocellulosic biomass, which separates sugar from cellulose and hemicellulose. In a next step, bioplastics are produced.

Definition and application

Bioplastics comprise biobased and biodegradable plastics, whereas the latter do not necessarily originate from renewable resources. The biodegradability is not dependant on the raw material basis. According to EN 13432 raw material is biologically degradable, if it is fully compostable within 180 days. Compostable materials have to be biodegradable in industrial compost facilities within 90 days.

Thus, three categories exist: Non-degradable plastics, biodegradable plastics from fossil resources and biodegradable plastics from renewable resources.

Polylactic acid (PLA) is a biologically degradable polymer, which is increasingly used in the packaging industry. In comparison to polyhydroxy fatty acids (PHB, PHV), PLA has the advantage of being suitable as a transparent packaging material as well as demonstrating a high degree of stability. In addition, in comparison to conventional plastics, its processing is less energy intensive. Thus, PLA can be processed with extrusion, injection moulding or deep drawing techniques.

Biobased PLA is particularly suited to be utilized for Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). Already today, the food sector, the cosmetics industry and manufacturers of other short-lived packaging search for new packaging solutions made from bioplastics.

Biobased PLA offers big advantages for the environment and the climate. Companies investing in bioplastics today highly value a sustainable eco-balance. The substitution of conventional plastics with bioplastics strongly reduces the carbon footprint of a company. In a next step, the application of bioplastics is an expression of a pioneer state of mind, which assumes responsibility for the environment and future generations.