Interest in renewably sourced resources has led to myriad new developments. Here is a brief overview of just a few that made the headlines in the past 12 months.
Single-serve coffee cups, PC lead biobased developments
With consumers citing waste from disposable coffee cups and single-serve capsules as the two issues they find most disturbing about the coffee industry, it was just a matter of time before the first Nespresso-compatible, fully bio-based compostable capsules made an appearance.
2018 saw the introduction of Gea, an industrially compostable coffee capsule made of 100 percent Ingeo PLA and created by Flo, an Italian food packaging producer in partnership with NatureWorks. Next came the home compostable coffee pods, such as the Eden Project's Columbia Coffee capsules; Alpla, too, launched a home compostable pod in cooperation with Germany's Golden Compound, made from Golden Compound Green, an organically based material and ground natural fibers from sunflower seed shells.
Following years of research, United Kingdom-based Teysha Technologies has developed a natural polycarbonate platform using a plug-and-play system that takes monomers and comonomers derived from natural products such as starches and agricultural waste products.
By controlling the chemistry, formulation and polymerization conditions, the BPA-free polycarbonate materials — dubbed AggiePol — can be physically, mechanically and chemically tuned to fit the intended application. The main mechanism of degradation of the system is water-driven, which allows for breakdown in any environment containing sufficient moisture and not necessarily requiring microbial activity or industrial composting conditions.
Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. launched a new grade of its Durabio bio-based engineering plastic designed for bottles. Durabio, which is not biodegradable, is made from renewable plant-derived isosorbide. It features higher transparency than polycarbonate, higher strength than acrylic and improved resistance to cracking. The new grade allows for commercial production of bottles that are both attractive and eco-friendly, the company said.
In another development, Japan Paper and Pulp decided to use MCC's biodegradable BioPBS, which is manufactured by PTT MCC Biochem Co. Ltd. in Thailand, a 50-50 joint venture between MCC and PTT Global Chemical Public Co. Ltd., as the laminate on the inner surface of paper cups in place of conventional polyethylene.
Danimer Scientific and PepsiCo Inc. debuted an industrially compostable crisps package made from blends of biopolymers and mineral filler, for which they won the 2018 Innovation in Bioplastics award. The companies are collaborating on a new bag that will be fully biodegradable in home-composting environments.
And, in response to the mounting outrage at the level of plastic polluting the oceans, Danimer created the first fully biodegradable plastic straw using its Nodax brand of PHA. According to the company, "research has found that PHA effectively biodegrades in environments ranging from waste treatment facilities to landfills and oceans."
It was a busy year for Italy's Bio-on SpA, which in June inaugurated a 1,000-metric-ton-per-year facility at Castel San Pietro Terme, for the production of the company's PHA replacement for fossil-fuel based microbeads.
In September, the company announced that it was adding waste cooking oil to the list of raw materials — beet molasses, sugar cane, fruit and potato wastes, carbohydrates and crude glycerol — already used to produce its PHA resin. And in December, the company said it would explore the use of carbon dioxide as a raw material with Gruppo Hera, one of Italy's largest utilities. It also announced in December that it had entered partnerships to develop PHA for electrical and food packaging applications.
A student team at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands introduced Noah, the world's first circular, cradle-to-cradle sustainable car, a fully recyclable EV made of bio-based materials. Chassis, body and interior are made entirely from biocomposites based on flax, with a substrate made of sugarcane-based PLA. The chassis is constructed of a sandwich that combines the biocomposite with a honeycomb core made of sugarcane-based PLA. With a 15 kW motor, Noah will weigh only 770 pounds and reach speeds of 62 mph with a range of 150 miles.
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