The winners of the third Bioplastics Awards, organised by European Plastics News, were announced in Munich in December 2008, with the awards going to organisations from around the world. Below are the winners in the six categories.
- Category: “Best Innovation in Bioplastics”
Winner: Biopolymer Network (New Zealand) – Expanded PLA Foaming Process
The New Zealand-based research partnership Biopolymer Network has developed a simple and cost effective process for producing low density expanded PLA (polylactic acid polymer) foams suitable for many applications currently served using expanded polysytrene. The development involves a controlled process for impregnation and pre-expansion of PLA beads using carbon dioxide as a blowing agent. Careful control of the impregnation process conditions avoids premature foaming of the beads, which can be stored and processed using existing EPS processing equipment.
A key attraction of the technology is its ability both to substitute a petrochemical-based polymer with a bio-based alternative and its elimination of hydrocarbon-based blowing agents. Foams with densities down to 30 g/litre and with good resilience and impact properties have been achieved using the technology with commercially available PLA resins. No polymer pre-treatment is required and the carbon dioxide blowing agent can be recovered during processing.
Biopolymer Network has trialled the technology on existing manufacturing plant in New Zealand and is currently in the process of securing PCT patent protection. The development team has packaging applications as its first target. However, preliminary experiments also suggest that the PLA foams produced using the technology could be used as sandwich core materials in composite applications.
Biopolymer Network was set up by three of New Zealand’s leading research organisations to create commercial technologies that will provide bio-based alternatives to current production processes. Members include textile and composites specialist AgResearch, forestry research association Scion, and bio-science company Crop & Food Research.
- Category: “Best Bioplastics Processor”
Winner: Gehr Plastics (Germany)
While bioplastics are quite widely used in the packaging industry, access to the materials in other sectors of industry has been less easy. German semi-finished products producer Gehr Plastics has taken that on board in its EcoGehr product line, which makes renewable and natural fibre reinforced materials available to plastics fabricators for the first time.
Gehr Plastics has invested considerable R&D effort into preparing itself for the introduction of its EcoGehr product line, which includes polymers ranging from PLA through to castor-oil derived polyamides such as PA 6.10 and 11. Every product contains a range of natural particulate and fibre fillers.
It has already supplied products for evaluation in markets as diverse as snow-ski core materials and cosmetics components, construction decking and profiles, and cosmetics packaging. As the first semi-finished plastic producer to assemble a full range of bio-based and renewable semi-finished plastic products, Gehr Plastics has marked itself out as a pioneer in bioplastics processing.
- Category: “Best Bioplastics Application – Packaging”
Winner: Amcor Flexibles (United Kingdom): Home compostable fresh produce pack
Amcor Flexibles worked with packaging specialist Flextrus, created from the buy-out of parts of the Amcor packaging businesses in Sweden and the United Kingdom earlier this year, to develop the packaging for the UK retailer Sainsbury’s So Organic wild rocket salad.
Sainsubury’s requirements for the pack was to deliver a home compostable product that would retain barrier performance and heat seal integrity in the wet environment required for fresh salads. PLA was ruled out because of Sainsbury’s stance on materials produced from materials that may be derived from GM sources.
The company’s developed the Natureplus TDH2 product around a film structure comprised of Innovia’s Natureflex cellulose film combined with a proprietary compostable sealing layer. No adhesive layer is required. The solution overcomes the water sensitivity of the cellulose film, enabling it to deliver seal performance similar to a PET/PE laminate and to run at line speeds similar to traditional alternatives. The TDH2 film is produced by Flextrus and converted to bags by Amcor. It provides a new option to retailers looking for a fully home compostable package for wet fresh produce.
- Category: “Best Bioplastics Application – Non Packaging”
Winner: Formax Quimiplan (Brazil) – Renewable TPU shoe components
Thermogreen is the latest range of counters and toe puffs (structural shoe components) from Brazialian footwear industry supplier Formax Quimiplan and is the first industrial-scale application of renewable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) in the shoe industry.
Counters and toe puffs are technically demanding parts that reinforce the shoe and are essential in maintaining the shape and comfort of each shoe during its lifetime. The Thermogreen range provides shoe manufacturers with a reduced carbon emission alternative to traditional TPUs with no sacrifice in performance.
The TPUs used to make the Thermogreen products were developed for the application by Merquinsa of Spain. Aside from the benefits from the sourcing of raw materials for the new resins, they also provide a lower activation temperature, making further energy savings possible during moulding. Any scrap and trimmings from the production process can also be recycled back into new production, further minimising environmental impact.
- Category: “Bioplastics Marketing Initiative”
Winner: Nestlé Confectionery (United Kingdom) – Quality Street brand recycling campaign
Nestlé Confectionery’s decision to repackage its market leading United Kingdom chocolate sweet range meant communicating the end-of-life options for a wide variety of packaging materials. The company’s solution was to develop its ‘Recycling Cycle’ story board. Printed on the base of every tin, it promotes how each element in the packaging should be handled or recycled at the end of life, including the specially developed range of home compostable cellulose twist wrappers developed for the project by Innovia Films.
The use of the Natureflex compostable films in the packaging overcame one of the key challenges for confectionery manufacturers in end of life treatment. Lightweight films are difficult to manage in mechanical recycling systems. The ‘Recycling Cycle’ makes it very clear to consumers that the plastic twist wraps will decompose on the home compost heap. It also very effectively ties compostability in alongside mechanical recycling in the full range end-of-life disposal options, underlingin the value of bioplastics as a packaging material.
- Category: “Personal Contribution to Bioplastics”
Winner: Oliver P. Peoples, CSO and co-founder, Metabolix
With the first commercial scale Mirel PHA production plant set to begin production next year at Clinton in the US state of Iowa, Oliver P Peoples is closer now than ever to realising his dream of seeing biotechnology research converted into large scale production of bioplastics.
A graduate of molecular biology from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Oliver joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US as a research scientist in its Department of Biology in 1988, where he worked on the newly developing technology of metabolic pathway engineering and its applications in industrial biotechnology.
The research that he carried out with his team at MIT established some of the fundamental tools and methods for genetically engineering bacteria and plants to produce bioplastics at increased yields. During this time he filed numerous patent applications, including critical patents covering the production of PHA in crop plants.
In 1992, Oliver co-founded Metabolix with MIT microbiologist Anthony J Sinskey and took on the position of Chief Scientific Officer with responsibility for all of its scientific programs.
While genetic modification and engineering is a controversial area of technology in Europe, Oliver and his team at Metabolix have continued to pursue their research in the US with a goal to lifting both yields and the range of plastics that can be produced from plant sources. Metabolix formed a joint venture with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in 2004 to produce and market the Mirel family of bioplastics using its fermentation technology.
Source: prw.com, 2008-12-04.