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In this issue:
by Dale McGeehon
Exclusive to Polymer Solutions News
What could be sweeter than a new food packaging plastic that is biodegradable, keeps food protected better, is stronger than other recyclable plastic -- and is made from sugar?
Ali Harlin, a research professor at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) thinks he has developed a better plastic for the future, reports Environment News Service. VTT is as state-owned research institute operating under Finland's Ministry of Employment and the Economy.
The new plastic, a monomer glycolic acid called PGA, is made from renewable cane sugar. Its production and use may signal a significant shift toward bio-based products and away from our dependence on plastics made from petroleum.
"Bio-based plastics are a tangible step closer to a bio-based economy," Harlin says. "This new generation of plastic packaging not only reduces our dependence on oil but also offers superior quality compared to traditional plastic packaging."
PGA plastic as a transparent film is the most efficient oxygen barrier known, Harlin says. Oxygen is what turns food brown and spoils it, and the PGA used to package food keeps the oxygen out of the package. Harlin calls the system created when the PGA plastic seals a package a "modified atmosphere package."
Good plastic packaging needs to keep air out, prevent vapor build-up, and be resistant to grease, in addition to being strong and resistant to heat. Putting PGA into traditional plastic packaging improves those characteristics, Harlin says.
The research center's plastic has other advantages as well. PGA plastic is 20% to 30% stronger than similar films, and it can tolerate temperatures of up to 20 degree Celsius higher than the other plastics.
A Sweetly Renewable Future
Sugar-based, biodegradable plastics are still new to the market. Heinz ketchup bottles transferred from oil-based plastics to partially plant-based plastics in 2011. Coca-Cola converted their containers to bioplastic in 2009. Their 'plantbottles' are composed 30% of sugar-based feedstocks, and save approximately 60,000 barrels of oil a year. While impressive, neither packaging is biodegradable.
Saying that Harlin's PGA plastic will save the world may be a bit of an overstatement, but if the company's claims of biodegrability are true, this plastic certainly has the potential to reduce human environmental impacts in a major way. For example, Harlin says that the PGA plastic breaks down faster than PLA, the most popular biodegradable plastic on the market. Like sugar-based plastic trays, PGA films can be broken down into their raw material -- sugar.
It takes a lot of petroleum to satisfy the world's demand for plastic. Five percent of the world's total oil consumption is used to produce plastics. A lot of that plastic shows up in our homes, especially during the winter holiday season. From Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, household waste increases by more than 25% over the rest of the year, reports Plastics Today. Much of that waste comprises food shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper and the stuff we put into holiday boxes we ship to friends and family: plastic bubble wrap, plastic air pillows, and Styrofoam peanuts.
Many of the gifts available during the holiday -- fleece jackets, handbags, winter gloves, and cutting boards -- can be made from recycled plastics. Eight plastic bottles can be recycled to make a new T-shirt, and plastic bags are often recycled into lumber for backyard decks and other household uses.
Recycling any waste certainly helps the environment and potentially saves energy. Human environmental impact is further lessened through fewer carbon dioxide emissions when bio-based plastics are used, compared with oil-based plastics. In fact, carbon emissions from the production and use of bio-based plastics are 70% less than the production and use of oil-based plastics, says VTT.
The "1%" is Growing
With a smaller carbon footprint, the production and use of bio-based plastics will help the European Union meet its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. VTT researchers say the goal is difficult but not impossible as long as manufacturers and consumers do their part. Developing PGA films will certainly help that effort.
Today, bio-based plastics account for a mere 1% of plastic production in the world. The global packaging market has been valued at about EUR 500 billion ($655 billion), and about 40% of all plastics are used in packaging. Chinese and Indian markets are growing quickly. With the growing demand for ethical consumption and environmental manufacturing practices for sustainable development, bio-based plastics are poised to explode onto the world stage. Sugar-based plastics might be the sweetest solution yet!
Source: "Plastic Packing Industry Shifting to Bio-based Products," Environment News Service," 12/5/12
Source: "Plastic packaging industry is moving towards completely bio-based products," Phys.Org, 12/4/12
Source: "'Tis the season for plastic packaging," Plastics Today, 12/10/12
Source: "The new generation of bio-based plastic packaging," YouTube
Source: "Heinz Will Use Sugar-Based Plastics in Ketchup Bottles," Design News, 2/24/11
Source: "Vancouver Olympics Will Feature Coke Bottles Made From Sugar," Design News, 1/26/10
Photo: Ralf Roletschek
by Katie McCaskey
Exclusive to Polymer Solutions News
Baby Toys and Breast Implants: 25 Years of Testing at PSI.
Jim Rancourt started Polymer Solutions Incorporated (PSI) in 1987 as a one-man operation after earning his Ph.D. in chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Twenty-five years later, PSI is a well-respected company with a global reach that employs 35 people. Employees in the company hold advanced degrees in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Metallurgy, and Materials Chemistry...but not even Rancourt himself could have predicted the unusual range of products brought to the PSI team for testing over the course of the last quarter-century. Baby toys? Breast implants? That's just the start.
"PSI has weathered numerous recessions and maintained consistent double-digit growth," Caitlyn Scaggs, PSI's director of marketing and communications said. "Our location and size has changed significantly over the years, but the high-consequence work we do has remained a constant for our company."
To celebrate the company's 25th Anniversary, Scaggs made a list of the 25 most interesting and unexpected items tested at PSI in the past 25 years. Polymer Solutions News will be bringing you stories from the list throughout 2013. Here's the first installment, five of the strangest things we've tested.
Testing A Man's Shirt for the Presence of Lipstick
There's no fury like a woman scorned -- which is why, although it's atypical for PSI to work on cases involving the allegations of affairs, scientists worked to determine if the red substance on a shirt was indeed lipstick. PSI scientists were able to confirm the substance was lipstick. Fortunately, they weren't asked to determine who left it there.
Testing Bath Toys
Don't throw the baby toys out with the fungicide! Bath toys usually contain fungicides. In small amounts they are not harmful. However, excess amounts of fungicides may cause irritation to little eyes and delicate skin. A client called upon PSI to determine how much fungicide was leaching into bathwater to ensure Rubber Ducky makes bathtime lots of fun.
Testing Breast Implants
Boxes of breast implants arrived at PSI offices for "coefficient of friction" testing. The coefficient of friction is "the force of friction between two bodies in response to the force pressing them together." Before you get all excited about trying this test at home, remember we're dealing with implant safety here, not a screenplay for Jersey Shore.
Jim Rancourt is frequently called upon to provide expert testimony in a variety of litigated matters, including tires, because of his forensic analysis and testifying expertise. Jim has tested tires of all sizes, for all sorts of vehicles. He has analyzed tires as small as those on a riding lawn mower to as large as 14 foot tall tires for a movable oil rig in Alaska. Jim has pretty much seen it all as far as tire analysis goes. Perhaps the only size tire he hasn't analyzed belongs to a matchbox car!
Hey, life's a beach -- especially if you're part of pending lawsuit. In this case, it was alleged that a certain tanning lotion contained a contaminant that caused an allergic reaction. PSI's job was to determine if there was in fact a contaminant in the product. We came to a decisive conclusion. Unfortunately, the analysis was done in our labs and did not require on-surf, off-site testing.
If there's one thing to be learned from these and other unusual applications of science over the past 25 years, it is this: there's always something new. And speaking of new, PSI recently expanded its capabilities to include metallurgy. "This will be useful to clients whose products are manufactured with metals," Scaggs said, "and also especially useful for manufacturers whose products are a combination of plastic and metal." We can look forward to more unusual metal testing stories in the future.
Join us next issue, when we bring you 5 strange tests involving food! We'll be sure to schedule the newsletter for delivery after lunch.
Photo: plindberg (Peter Lindberg).
New Polymer Bulbs Silent, Emit White Light
Hmmmmmmm. Bzzzt. Hmmmmm. Zzzzt.
Thanks to researchers at Wake Forest University, office workers won't have to endure noise from overhead lights. Scientists have developed a polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) technology that emits a quiet, soft, white light, rather than a humming, yellowish glow or a bluish tinge from light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Medical Device Excise Tax Set for Jan. 1, 2013
A 2.3% excise tax will be imposed on the sales of medical devices, starting Jan. 1, 2013, because of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. The tax is not helping the fiscal health of medical device manufacturers, which are facing large layoffs, the companies say.
Polymer Material Protects Soldiers From Biological Agents
Polymer scientists have developed a fabric made of nanotubes that has the ability to switch from a breathable state to a protective one, in response to an environmental threat, without the need for an external control system.
Hybrid Polymer Membrane Captures Carbon Dioxide
In the world of carbon-capture technologies, polymer membranes are mass-produced and inexpensive, while inorganic membranes are expensive but grab carbon atoms more effectively. Now, researchers at Ohio State University have developed a membrane that features the best of both worlds.
Scientist Wants to Regenerate Human Tissue
Imagine a world in which if, through a horrible accident, you lose a finger or foot. Currently, with luck and a good surgeon, you might be able to have that lost appendage reattached and even regain some of its function. In Michael Levin’s world, that lost appendage could be regenerated rather than reattached.
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Polymer Solutions News is a monthly publication of Polymer Solutions Incorporated, an independent laboratory and a strategic global resource for chemical analysis, physical testing, research and development services, and litigation services. Please email us with any corrections, comments, reprint requests, suggestions for stories, requests for quotes, or other feedback.