21 Mai 2012

PLA – a biopolymer with many faces

Innovative Views from 2nd PLA World Congress in Munich, Germany, and PLAST2012 in Milan, Italy

BildDuring two important industry events in May, the 2nd PLA World Congress in Munich, Germany, and the PLAST2012 in Milan, Italy, the breadth of application of PLA (polylactic acid) and progress in research and development around this material were demonstrated.

PLA is a biopolymer made from annually renewable resources such as corn and sugar beets. There are already numerous products on the market – mostly in packaging – using this material. For certain product categories, the renewably sourced PLA is combined with other materials in order to expand the property range.

At the 2nd PLA World Congress confident voices of the bioplastics industry proclaimed PLA “ready to substitute polystyrene and polypropylene”, “suitable for products ranging from compostable packaging to durable applications such as computer mice”, and “PLA recycling infrastructure advancing”.

Dutch Purac and US-based NatureWorks presented new materials currently on the market or soon to be introduced. Purac’s highly heat resistant lactide innovations have just recently become commercially available. They unlock PLA’s potential for durable applications as they improve its properties for injection moulding, thermoforming or extrusion.

Moreover, Purac announced a new PLA cup suitable for hot drinks such as fresh brewed coffee or tea that can replace one-way Polystyrene cups. On the same day, NatureWorks announced that new grades of its PLA brand Ingeo will be produced as of summer 2012 and will be available as of 2013. These high performance Ingeo-grades are designed for injection moulding, and fibres/non-woven segments.

Apart from material and product innovations, major topics of the bioplastics industry such as sustainable sourcing or end-of-life solutions were addressed in the numerous presentations. NatureWorks and Purac, for example, underlined their engagement in the development of non-food crops to produce PLA.

During the end-of-life session, the option of PLA recycling was discussed. Several projects were presented, e.g. by German REPLA. With growing PLA volumes in the market, recycling is bound to be an economically and ecologically viable end-of-life option for PLA products in the short and medium term. Furthermore, a recent study by NatureWorks and OWS gives insights on the behavior of Ingeo PLA-products in landfills. The study will be published in a peer review format within the next 1-2 months.

More information on bioplastic materials coming up!
Bioplastics are a huge family with differing properties. The next few issues of the Bioplastics Bulletin will feature other bioplastic materials. Look out for information on bio-PE and high performance polymers amongst others.

Source: European Bioplastics, press release, 2012-05-21.

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