Bioplastics in bloom
The aim of the EU project FORBIOPLAST is to develop biodegradable food packaging from forestry and paper industry waste. Wood and paper mill by-products are intended to replace the fossil-fuel resources that are common today.
“In the project we use our packing and processing expertise to help develop new and more eco-friendly fish crates,” says Morten Sivertsvik, head of process technology research at the food research institute Nofima. “In addition, Nofima is responsible for the practical testing of several types of bioplastic materials. We have examined whether these materials are suitable as food packaging.”
Does wood fibre add extra strength?
One of the types of bioplastics that the researchers at Nofima are going to inspect is polylactic acid (PLA), which is naturally biodegradable. Can PLA enhanced with wood fibre create materials that are suitable for food packaging? The sealing qualities of the new products are currently undergoing optimization tests, health safety tests, and migration analyses. These tests will be followed by practical processing and packaging test runs.
The development of the new and more eco-friendly fish crates applies so-called green polyurethane. This eco-friendly polyurethane variant is made from tall oil, which is a tree oil that is obtained as a by-product of wood pulp production.
A major and renewable resource
The forest’s biomass represents a major and renewable resource, and it does not conflict with areas that are used for food production. It is low-cost and may act as an alternative to petroleum resources. But despite positive test results that indicate that industrial production is feasible, the field remains little exploited.
One of the areas that the project wants to explore and develop is the use of eco-friendly polyurethane foam in combination with wood fibre. The aim is to make both production and biodegradation sustainable and also more energy efficient than current solutions.
The project involves partners from all across Europe. In addition to packaging, other potential areas of use include agricultural aids (such as biodegradable flower pots, fertilizer sticks, and supports for tomato plants) and car industry products (such as isolation materials, spoilers, and parts for car seats).
Forbioplast will conclude in May 2012 with the International Conference on Biobased Polymers and Composites (www.bipoco2012.hu).