Finns develop efficient bio-based plastic production technique

Monday, 10 December, 2012

Two quick facts: the volume of oil used every year in the production of plastics equates to approximately 5% of the world’s total oil consumption, and approximately 40% of all plastics are used in packaging.

These two facts mean that the packaging industry feels extra pressure to reduce dependence on oil even as it moves towards completely bio-based products. However, the transition to a bio-based economy requires products that are not only ecologically sustainable but also competitive in terms of quality.

The VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland has developed a technique that enables the production of the PGA monomer glycolic acid from bio-based materials more efficiently than before.

“Bio-based plastics are a tangible step closer to a bio-based economy. This new generation of plastic packaging not only reduces our dependence on oil but also offers superior quality compared to traditional plastic packaging,” said Research Professor Ali Harlin from VTT.

Bio-based PGA plastic has excellent barrier properties. Adding PGA into the structure of traditional plastic packaging significantly improves its quality. In addition to strength and heat-resistance, plastic packaging also needs to be airtight, vapour-proof and grease-resistant.

Bio-based PGA plastic is between 20 and 30% stronger than PLA - the most popular biodegradable plastic on the market - and able to withstand temperatures 20°C higher. It also breaks down more quickly than PLA but its biodegradability can be regulated if necessary.

Presently, bio-based plastic accounts for only 1% of global plastic production, but ethical consumption principles and legislative changes are steering the packaging industry towards sustainable development. VTT predicts that bio-based plastic is opening up new business opportunities for the forest industry, particularly as rapidly growing markets like China and India drive the growth of the packaging industry.

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