EDMONTON, ALBERTA (Aug. 15, 10:15 a.m. ET) – The latest in biopolymers isn't plant-based – it's meat-based.
David Bressler, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta, Canada, has collaborated with industry, government and other researchers to forge waste cattle proteins into heavy-duty plastics “that could soon be used in everything from car parts to CD cases.”
The raw materials are discarded parts of carcasses that were sidelined from beef production after bovine spongiform encephalopathy devastated the industry in 2003. By finding a way to convert these animal byproducts into plastics for industrial use, Bressler and his team hope to divert tonnes of protein waste from landfills across North America, shift to using renewable resources instead of petrochemicals to make plastics, and boost flagging profits in the cattle industry.
“If we can get more fundamental value back into the rendering process, it will help the livestock industry more than any government policy,” Bressler said.
Using high temperatures, the bovine proteins are broken into small molecular components, then crosslinked to other protein molecules to create a polymer network that forms a rigid structure.
The new plastics from Bressler's lab are currently being tested by the Woodbridge group, a car parts manufacturer. Current funding is focused on research to investigate whether the plastics can be mixed with renewable fibres such as hemp. If successful, the resulting biocomposite could be used in high-strength applications such as building structural elements.
Bressler believes that the biofriendly plastics, though still at the development stage, are poised to become an innovative resource for the plastics industry, which “… is under pressure to increase the renewable content in its products. This project offers the opportunity to do just that, and at the same time help send value back to rural Alberta and the beef sector.”