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MATERIALS | BIOPLASTICS


Right: Lucy Hughes has created a bioplastic from fish skin, fish scales and red algae


A key challenge when creating bioplastic is to


make it both degradable and transparent, as this latter quality is often required by customers. “Many products are supplied in a paper bag with a clear plastic window,” he said. “Although paper is degradable, it is complicated to separate it from plastic – so the package is considered non-recyclable and non-compostable.” However, if the window is biodegradable, it can be composted, he said. “Moreover, we could use the bag to collect


biodegradable waste and put it all into the compost bin together,” he added.


Degrading experience Researchers at the University of Konstanz in Germany are to study how polyethylene (PE) might be engineered to degrade naturally in the environment. Stefan Mecking, professor of chemistry, has been awarded a grant of up to €2.5 million (US$2.8m) by the European Research Council (ERC), to investigate whether polyethylene can be made to degrade “at the molecular level” without harming the environment. The project, called Deepcat (which stands for


Above: Mecking: “Plastics that do not persist in the environment would be highly desirable”


Degradable Polyolefin Materials Enabled by Catalytic Methods), will last for up to five years. “Plastics make our lives better in many essential


ways,” he said. “But what happens when they find their way into the environment – even if they were to be handled more responsibly in the future?” Plastics that do not persist in the environment would be highly desirable, he said. In order to make plastics degradable, ‘break points’ could be included in the polymer chains. These might enable a slow degradation in, say, a marine environment. Mecking and his team will apply this principle to polyethylene. PE is made using catalytic processes to cause polymerisation. However, existing processes are not able to introduce the desired break points, he


said. To overcome this, one goal of the project is to develop new catalysts. However, the project is not limited to identifying


break points and learning how to produce them. Using degradation studies, the team will also look at how their materials break down into smaller fragments – and what happens to them afterwards.


Bio-based polyolefins There is, unsurprisingly, also plenty of movement on the large scale. Neste and LyondellBasell have begun parallel production of bio-based polypropylene (PP) and bio-based low-density polyethylene (LDPE) on a commercial scale. The joint project used Neste’s renewable


hydrocarbons, derived from bio-based raw materials such as waste and residue oils. It produced several thousand tonnes of bio-based plastics which are approved for use in food packaging and being marketed as Circulen and Circulen Plus, the new family of LyondellBasell circular economy product brands. “Through the use of renewable resources, we


are contributing to the fight against climate change and helping our customers achieve their environmental targets,” said Richard Roudeix, senior vice president of olefins and polyolefins for Europe, Asia and International at LyondellBasell. LyondellBasell’s cracker flexibility allowed it to


Neste and LyondellBasell have teamed up to produce bio-based polyolefins 16 FILM & SHEET EXTRUSION | July/August 2019


introduce a new renewable feedstock at its Wesseling, Germany site, which was converted directly into bio-based PE and PP. An independent third party tested the polymer products using carbon tracers and confirmed they contained over 30% renewable content. It sold some of the renewable products from the trial to customers including Cofresco – which has brands including Toppits and Albal. Cofresco plans to use the Circulen Plus bio-based PE to create sustainable food packaging materials.


www.filmandsheet.com


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