Technical Papers Plastics
Developments in bioplastics aid packaging, automotive sector

Developments in bioplastics aid packaging, automotive sector

Growing consumer awareness and demand for environment friendly products is leading many manufacturers to look for alternate materials that have a lower carbon footprint, leading to the development of resin components derived from rapidly renewable resources.The compounding process allows the resins to be engineered with additional properties that make them ideal for a broad spectrum of semi-durable and durable goods. Globally, the production capacity of bioplastics is highest in Asia followed by South America and Europe. As Asia and South America are closer to where feedstock is grown, the production capacity of bioplastics is higher in these regions. Growing sensitivity to climate change and increasing prices of oil have together contributed to rise in demand of bioplastics products. A number of laws such as the ban of plastic bags and disposal of waste are accelerating the demand of bioplastics. Few challenges that the bioplastics industry is facing are lack of biobased feedstock, lack of composting and other industrial biodegradation infrastructure and lack of a clear understanding of the various bioplastics related regulations. New high performance bioplastics is being introduced in the market that can withstand higher temperatures. Many companies are also planning to substitute feedstock with some other biobased material or non food alternative feedstock from biomass, so as to reduce their dependency on feedstock availability.

New bioplastic compounds target applications in food and non-food packaging, as well as several durable products e.g. toys, office supplies.

Corbion and FKuR will be working to develop those applications where high temperature resistance is required, which, until now, could not work with many standard bioplastics. The two have joined forces to develop PLA (Poly Lactic Acid) compounds for both heat resistant and GMO-free applications. Historically, PLA's greatest challenge has been withstanding higher temperatures. In ambient conditions during the summer, for example, unmodified PLA's can experience difficulty maintaining dimensional stability in higher temperatures. In addition to heat resistant compounds, an additional focus is the optimization of mechanical properties to increase the range of applications, and to adapt the polymers to run on existing processing equipment. A part of the development project was also to reduce the cycle time of PLA, particularly during injection molding. After the initial highly promising trials in October 2013, FKuR has begun systematic testing using PLA based on lactides from Corbion in its formulations. One of the first commercial applications resulting from this development work is a heat resistant thermoformed food tray, produced from Bio-Flex® F 6611 by Plastisud (Italy).  These lactide monomers are sourced from GMO free, renewable feedstocks such as sugarcane, and form the basis for high performance Poly Lactic Acid bioplastics (PLA). The resulting homopolymers have already been proven to withstand boiling water, and can now boast performance characteristics to rival their oil-based counterparts.

An innovative approach that replaces up to 100% of the fossil resources used at the beginning of the integrated production process with certified biomass has been unveiled by BASF- Ultramid® (polyamide), derived from renewable raw materials. The resulting Ultramid, which is produced according to the so called mass balance approach, is identical in terms of formulation and quality but associated with lower green house gas emissions and saving of fossil resources. Also, existing plants and technologies along the value chain can continue to be used without changes. This development meets rising consumer demand for products made of renewable raw materials, offering opens excellent possibilities for packaging film manufacturers to market their products accordingly. Teknor Apex's Terraloy® PLA compounds exhibits high impact and heat resistant properties. The free-flowing resins, used in both injection molding and extrusion/thermoforming processes, streamline the PLA crystallization process, eliminating the post-annealing or post-crystallization process. It offers enhanced polylactic acid in areas such as heat resistance, impact resistance and processability while retaining key bioplastic values such as FDA compliance, high bio-based content, and compostability. Life cycle analysis shows Terraloy PLA compounds with high heat distortion temperatures produced 125% less greenhouse gas than high-impact polystyrene and 40% less than low-density polyethylene.

Demands made on modern foodstuff packaging are high: the solutions here have to be ecological, economical, sustainable and functional. Consequently, the development of biopolymers is one of the current top trends in the research field of new packaging materials. The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV has presented initial results of the European "Wheylayer" project. 14 partners from seven EU countries are currently working on a revolution in terms of food packaging: called "Wheylayer" the project sets out to develop a sustainable packaging material with an economical production process that will use the excellent barrier properties of whey protein against oxygen and humidity so as to replace the conventional polymer layers in packaging with a natural product. Materials for food packaging have to fulfill particularly high requirements - from process-engineering ones through to barrier properties against water vapour and oxygen. The result will be an innovative film coating with whey protein that is aimed at achieving greater foodstuff shelf life, saving production materials and, at the same time, cutting CO2 emissions.  The use of biopolymers in packaging materials improves the sustainability and biodegradability of packaging. The positive properties of this material group can be used here such as the antimicrobial and antioxidative effect of a film coated with whey protein. It is thought this will make it possible to obtain particularly pure protein isolates and optimise the film-forming properties of whey protein from sweet and sour whey by chemical modifications and enzymatic partial hydrolysis. Innovative whey protein formulations on the basis of these proteins are thought to both display a great barrier effect as well as excellent adhesion and resistance to mechanical strain. 

Toray has succeeded in production of bio-based PBT and part samples. Along with Genomatica, Inc., Toray has successfully made a partially bio-based PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) using 1,4-butanediol (BDO) made with Genomatica’s bio-based process technology.  The successful bench-level production gives Toray a significant boost towards commercial-scale production of partially bio-based PBT. Toray’s tests confirmed that PBT made using this BDO has physical properties and formability equivalent to PBT made from petroleum-derived BDO, and Toray then succeeded in making prototypes of molded components. Toray’s plan is to produce a bio-based PBT at commercial scale using BDO made with Genomatica’s process. Genomatica has developed a process to produce BDO from renewable feedstocks that includes an engineered microorganism, fermentation techniques and downstream processing. Genomatica’s process was used for the successful commercial-scale production of 5 mln lbs of BDO in November 2012. PBT is an engineering plastic produced by polymerizing terephthalic acid and BDO.  It is used in wide-ranging applications from automobile parts such as switches and ignition coils to electrical parts such as connectors and plugs, as the material has mechanical properties such as tensile strength and tensile elasticity and well-balanced physical properties such as heat resistance. PBT is the second largest use for BDO, accounting for about 29% of all BDO worldwide, or about 700,000 tpa as PBT compound.  Currently, regular PBT resin is produced using petroleum-based ingredients.

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