The move could have a significant bearing on the vast majority of rigid plastic packaging used in the cosmetic and personal care industry, which continues to be derived from non-renewable fossil fuels and is often not biodegradable.
The research will be undertaken by Biome Tecnologies’ Bioplastics division and the University of Warwick Centre for Biotechnology and Biorefining, with the help of a £150,000 grant from the UK government’s innovation agency.
Moving towards a bioeconomy
The aim of the research is to give the industrial biotechnology sector the necessary tools to help the chemical industry find the alternatives it needs to move away from fossil-based plastics, towards a bioeconomy based on renewable materials.
Although some bioplastics are already based on natural materials, oil-based chemicals are also widely used in their manufacture, which is said to give the plastic properties such as mechanical strength, tear resistance and durability.
The aim of the project is to find chemical solutions that are plentiful, from a natural source and low in cost, while also having properties that provide increased functionality and performance, making them competitive with conventional oil-based plastics.
Tapping into lignin
Top of the research list of bio-based chemicals is lignin, a complex hydrocarbon that provides structural support the structure of plants, and is also as a waste product of the paper and pulp industry, it is also relatively inexpensive to source.
“The environmental and social concerns surrounding the use of fossil fuels and food crops make lignin a compelling target as a source of chemicals”, explains Professor Tim Bugg, director of the Centre.
“Often considered a waste product, it may provide a sustainable source of building blocks for aromatic chemicals that can be used in bioplastics”.
Market for bioplastics set explode in Europe
The market for bioplastics is set to top one million tons in 2011 and will grow rapidly to double in size by 2015, with the beauty industry predicted to be a major driver of this growth, according to the European Bioplastics association.
The findings form part of a study which was presented by the association with the co-operation of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts at the recent Interpack trade show in Dusseldorf, Germany.
According to its figures, the market produced around 700,000 tonnes of bioplastics in 2011, and this figure is set to explode in the run up to 2015, in line with manufacturers’ demands for more sustainable plastics