A company in Italy claims to have developed a biopolymer made from agricultural waste that would replace much of the plastics used in packaging.
The company, Bio-on, manufacturers polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), a polymer in the polyster family, reports FoodProductionDaily.com. It then licenses the technology to other firms that can complete the manufacture of packaging materials.
As a 100% naturally biodegradable material, the PHA is made using waste materials from sugar beet and cane production, the company says. Marco Astorri, CEO of the company, says that the PHA is made through natural aerobic bacteria fermentation.
Astorri spoke to FoodProductionDaily.com and described further how the process occurs:
The bacteria feed on waste carbon sources (sugar beet or sugar cane molasses) and after about 30-40 hours they produce an energy reserve in their body, in the same way humans accumulate fat, he explained. ‘We then implement our entirely natural process (and without using polluting solvents); we extract the PHAs, dry it, extrude it and transform it into pellets, which are then used in injection and extrusion in the machines customarily used with oil-based plastic.’
The company can make different grades of the product to replace plastics that are used now by food packagers. The PHA can replace polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyethylene terephthalate.
The added benefit of the process, the company says, is that takes less energy to obtain the PHA source material: agricultural waste. It makes no sense to grow grains to produce the agricultural stock for the plastics, when by-products can be used for the same purpose of making biopolymers.
“We do not compare ourselves at all with what has been done in recent years in the world of biopolymers and PHAs,” says Astorri. “Everyone is talking about PHAs, but they do not know [the] potential. We have discovered some very interesting things thanks to the large quantities of produce we have available for use in our research.”
Bio-on has already made PHA for global food and beverage companies, and further expansion is planned, although details have not been made public. New plants could be built to manufacture more PHA; their size would be determined by demand.
Two current plants have produced 2,000 and 10,000 tons annually. Other plants could be built in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom, depending on market demand.
Source: “PHA from agricultural waste closer to food packaging use, says Bio-on,” FoodProductionDaily.com, 8/27/13
Image by Miansari66.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.