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Biomass Technology

VTT develops new bio-based plastic from cellulose and fatty acids

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a material that is similar to plastic and is made from cellulose and fatty acids.

In a statement, the research organisation said its material can be used for food packaging and that it was working in cooperation with dairy company Arla Foods, food and drink company Paulig and packaging company Wipak to develop the bio-based plastic.

The final application of the Thermocell material developed by VTT will depend on how companies want to use it, VTT said. According to the organisation, it is suitable for many purposes for which fossil-based plastics are currently being used. Thermoplastic cellulose – a cellulose that can be moulded using heat – can be processed in conventional plastic treatment processes. Like plastic, the material can be refined into packaging films and bulk commodities.

All potential uses of the material are not yet known. The next step in the development process is to produce hundreds of kilos of the material and process it into various packaging prototypes with companies. This is done to verify the functionality of the material in industrial processes and in real application conditions.

Cellulose is the most abundant natural polymer. Due to its hydrogen bonds, cellulose has formed a resistant microfibril network, making it strong. In order to achieve thermoplasticity, cellulose must be tailored without significantly affecting its natural properties. In the technology developed by VTT (@VTTFinland), the molar mass of cellulose is first adjusted in a controlled manner, followed by chemical treatment, which eventually produces a thermoplastic material.

According to VTT, Arla Foods, Paulig and Wipak have a long history and extensive know-how in the development of innovative and sustainable materials.

With this project Arla Foods will take another step towards identifying more sustainable packaging solutions for the future of dairy products, VTT said.

Paulig Group invests strongly in packaging development and has introduced fibre-based packages with a lower carbon footprint into the market, VTT maintained.

Wipak is well-known for its innovation capability in sustainable products and has recently declared an intention to become carbon neutral within five years, VTT said.

VTT hopes that cooperating with Arla Foods, Paulig and Wipak will help to boost the launch of its material on to the market. It expects the project to be completed by May 2021.
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