Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Compostable plastics have a sweet ending

17.02.2010
Food packaging and other disposable plastic items could soon be composted at home along with organic waste thanks to a new sugar-based polymer.

The degradable polymer is made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass, which come from non-food crops such as fast-growing trees and grasses, or renewable biomass from agricultural or food waste.

It is being developed at Imperial College London by a team of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council scientists led by Dr Charlotte Williams.

The search for greener plastics, especially for single use items such as food packaging, is the subject of significant research worldwide. "It's spurred on not only from an environmental perspective, but also for economic and supply reasons," explains Dr Williams.

Around 7% of worldwide oil and gas resources are consumed in plastics manufacture, with worldwide production exceeding 150 million tons per year. Almost 99% of plastics are formed from fossil fuels.

"Our key breakthrough was in finding a way of using a non-food crop to form a polymer, as there are ethical issues around using food sources in this way," said Williams. Current biorenewable* plastics use crops such as corn or sugar beet.

"For the plastic to be useful it had to be manufactured in large volumes, which was technically challenging. It took three-and-a-half years for us to hit a yield of around 80% in a low energy, low water use process," explains Dr Williams.

This is significant as the leading biorenewable plastic, polylactide, is formed in a high energy process requiring large volumes of water. In addition, when it reaches the end of its life polylactide must be degraded in a high-temperature industrial facility.

In contrast, the oxygen-rich sugars in the new polymer allow it to absorb water and degrade to harmless products – meaning it can be tossed on the home compost heap and used to feed the garden.

Because the new polymer can be made from cheap materials or waste products it also stacks up economically compared to petrochemical-based plastics.

The polymer has a wide range of properties, laying the field open for a larger number of applications other than biorenewable plastic packaging. Its degradable properties make it ideal for specialised medical applications such tissue regeneration, stitches and drug delivery. The polymer has been shown to be non-toxic to cells and decomposes in the body creating harmless by-products.

The team – including commercial partner BioCeramic Therapeutics, which was set up by Professor Molly Stevens and colleagues at Imperial – are investigating ways of using the material as artificial scaffolds for tissue regeneration. They are also focusing on exploiting the degradable properties of the material to release drugs into the body in a controlled way.

Now the team is focused on developing the specific material characteristics needed for the packaging and medical areas.

"The development of the material is very promising and I'm optimistic that the technology could be in use within two to five years," says Williams, who is already working with a number of commercial partners and is keen to engage others interested in the material.

Notes for Editors:

Biorenewable plastics are materials whose feedstock material (monomer) comes from renewable resources. The leading example is poly(lactic acid) which derives from lactic acid, produced by fermentation of corn or sugar beet. These biorenewable plastics are different to biopolymers, which are naturally occurring polymers such as starch or cellulose (note that these are not plastic materials).

The chemical name for the compostable polymer is Poly(acetic acid-5-acetoxy-6-oxo-tetrahydro-pyran-2-yl-methyl ester) and copoly(lactic acid-ran-acetic acid-5-acetoxy-6-oxo-tetrahydro-pyran-2-yl-methyl ester).

Research leader Dr Charlotte Williams is a champion of the widespread application of biomass to make fuels and materials. She has published a highly cited article in science magazine highlighting the challenges associated with converting plants to fuels and products. She won a 2009 Royal Society of Chemistry Early Career Award for her work in this area. The research is being carried out in collaboration with Prof. Molly Stevens, an expert in the application of degradable plastics in medicine. Her research has recently been recognised by the IUPAC creativity in polymer science prize.

The polymer was discovered and developed by Dr Min Tang and Dr Anita Haider in their doctoral research. Dr Tang continues to develop the materials.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing more than £850 million a year in a broad range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering. www.epsrc.ac.uk

BioCeramic Therapeutics Limited

BioCeramic Therapeutics Limited is a pioneer in the exciting new field of regenerative medicine, bringing together some of the world's best materials scientists, doctors, biologists and chemists in both private and public sectors. BCT is developing two families of implants designed to promote tissue regeneration. Initial applications are in orthopaedics and oral care, with plans to extend this to a wide range of other tissues important in human diseases. www.bioceramictherapeutics.com

Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality.

Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health in the UK and globally, tackle climate change and develop clean and sustainable sources of energy. www.imperial.ac.uk

For further information, contact:
Imperial College London Press Office
Tel: 020 7594 6702, e-mail: lucy.goodchild@imperial.ac.uk
Images are available from the EPSRC Press Office
Tel: 01793 444404, e-mail: pressoffice@epsrc.ac.uk
Image details
Image: PN 09-10 ready meal packaging
Credit: iStockPhoto
Suggested caption: Food packaging is just one of the potential applications of the compostable sugar-based polymer.
Image: PN 09-10 polymer team
Credit: Imperial College London
Suggested caption: The compostable polymer was developed by (left to right) Professor Molly Stevens, Dr Min Tang (holding the new polymer) and Dr Charlotte Williams at Imperial College London.

EPSRC Press Office | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.epsrc.ac.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht Astrophysicists explain the mysterious behavior of cosmic rays
18.08.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>