Imagine a not-too-distant future, in which cartons for a range of consumable products including milk, fruit juice and many other household foodstuffs will be 100% biodegradable.
Leading researchers from Italian biotechnologists Bio-on and the University of Tampere, Finland have teamed up to create the first 100% biodegradable packaging solution of its type ever put to market.
Their invention is the first material to partner paper and bioplastic in its innovative new design and has all the hallmarks of the food packaging of the future. It will also be the only biodegradable material of its kind.
This brilliant new initiative will see a food packaging revolution set to bring wholly sustainable materials into the bio-based value-chain.
Bio-based innavotors Bio-on has recently announced a significant success in its new collaboration with Tampere University of Technology, Finland, one of the most important centres in the world for research and innovation in the use of paper and plastic for food packaging.
This joint project for a 100% biodegradable packaging soltuion was originally launched in 2015. The research has since produced, for the very first time, ‘tetrapak’ style containers made up entirely of a combination of paper and bioplastic, chiefly the special grade EC (Extrusion Coating) of the Minerv PHA biopolymer uniquely developed and applied by Bio-on technologists.
To achieve this extraordinary outcome, innovators across the two laboratories replaced the polyethylene contained in the packaging popularly in use across food products and sought to maintain all of its characteristic impermeability while also, for the first time in history, being a material that is totally naturally biodegradable, of renewable origin and moreover can be easily and safely recycled.
This Minerv PHA Extrusion Coating project, with aim to develop specific, eco-sustainable and fully biodegradable formulations, creates the material compounds by making laminates with paper without using films and instead fuses the biopolymer directly onto the paper itself using an extrusion process technology. This process, in turn, ensures that the product material does not lose any of the functionality or aesthetic of traditional packaging.
The Minerv PHA EC (extrusion coating) industrial research and development project works by producing polylaminate via extrusion of the molten PHA polymer directly onto the paper or cardboard substrate where it is subsequently cooled and consolidated as the plastic film passes through cooled rollers (an overall process entitled extrusion coating).
This exclusive process for the production of a family of polymers called PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) from agricultural waste (including molasses and sugar cane and sugar beet syrups) is a sigficant step towards natural and sustainable chemicals for the future.
The bioplastic produced in this way is able to replace the main families of traditional plastics in terms of performance, thermo-mechanical properties and versatility. Bio-On PHA is a bioplastic that can be classified as 100% natural and completely biodegradable: this has been certified by Vincotte and by USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).
Bio-on’s inventive new sustainable strategy envisages the marketing of licenses for PHAs production and related ancillary services, the development of R&D (also through new collaborations with universities, research centres and industrial partners), as well as the realisation of specialist industrial plants designed by Bio-On. This will see real change across future packaging solutions.
Based on Bio-on’s revolutionary biopolymer, this 100% naturally biodegradable packaging has been succesfully tested with dozens of useful practical applications ranging from automotive functions to design or biomedical applications, all with a solid degree of success. Minerv PHA EC (Extrusion Coating) is a truly innovative invention that is both safe and particularly suited for use with food and it can be expected to be rolled out across international packaging markets and process value-chains.
Bio-on S.p.A. Chairman Marco Astorri explains the value of this new project;
“We are extremely pleased to present this important product created out of the collaboration with Prof. Jurkka Kuusipalo from the Tampere University of Technology Finland, which has made the highest number of technological developments in the history of food packaging in the food & beverage sector,” he explains . “Together we demonstrate that it is possible to develop new functionalities in the use of PHAs biopolymers in dozens of items”
Collaborator Professor Kuusipalo of Tampere University of Technology, Finland @TampereUniTech expands on this;
“It is a great scientific challenge,” explains Prof. Kuusipalo “to be able to create new products with an eco-sustainable and completely natural material. I have been analysing and testing all the plastics bonded to paper and cardboard for over 20 years. The high interest that the packaging sector is enjoying gives us new goals for a totally eco-sustainable “tomorrow”. The PHAs made by Bio-on is very versatile and enables us to achieve performances never seen before. Being able to do this with completely natural products will put us at the cutting-edge of research and development in the coming decades”.
Being 100% naturally biodegradable is an achievement which Astorri is certain will be important to future markets; “We chose to work with Tampere University of Technology Finland because they are very oriented towards industrial production,” explains Astorri, and as such this solution is one that easily be applied across larger packaging lifecycles to quickly and cheaply revolutionise the food products we consume.
These incredible bioplastics will be revolutionary in the move towards more sustainable packaging and brands. Created with care from renewable plant sources, some of which are also recycled waste-products making them doubly eco-friendly, there is certainly no current competition in existing food supply chains for this kind of biodegradable innovation process.
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