Researchers in Finland have discovered a way of reinforcing biodegradable packaging using natural fibres.
VTT, Technical Research Centre of Finland, claims it has made degradable bioplasticmore durable due to reinforcement with the natural fibres. The result is a biocompositewhich is totally biodegradable and thus supports sustainable development. The researchers say that the waste costs for products made from this new packaging will be small, and that the material will lead to an increasing number of applications for biodegradable packaging.
VTT says it achieved this biocomposite using flax fibres to reinforce bioplastic. It also developed a method by which the properties of the completelybiodegradable biocomposite can be tailored according to the projected use ofthe product. According to the researchers, another advantage is that the new bioplastic products canbe manufactured on the same machinery as conventional plastic productswhich are only partially biodegradable.
Thus far, the spearhead in the development of such flax reinforced completelybiodegradable products has been in Finland, Sweden and the US. VTT claims it hassucceeded in creating the desired mechanical strengths for bioplasticthrough an appropriate combination of bioplastic raw material and flax. Theresearch also explored the resistance of the new biocomposite to heat,moisture and UV radiation, and further developed the manufacturing process.
Traditionally fibreglass has been used to reinforce plastics. This isdifficult to recycle and there may be health hazards involved in handlingit. In central Europe, the car manufacturing industry especially uses flaxfibres for reinforcement, but mixed with non-biodegradable plastic rawmaterial.
"Our company acquired knowledge suggesting that it would be good to continueworking on product development and research in order to bring new,biodegradable materials onto the markets. One year ago an EU norm was setfor bioplastic, and in the next few years compostible packages are to comeonto the markets of southern Europe. Finland is the leader in Europe forcompletely biodegradable bioplastic. Much of the credit is due to TEKES andits biopolymer programme," said Anders Södergård, technology manager of theDutch company Hycail and part-time professor of applied biomaterial sciencesat the University of Turku.
The research work on biocomposites led by VTT was financed by TEKES, severalcompanies and VTT. The companies specified the desired properties forbioplastic and the research work was accomplished chiefly by VTT, TampereUniversity of Technology, åbo Akademi University and Hycail. Hycail has apilot factory for lactic acid based bioplastic raw material producing 400tons of raw material a year.