Nano-based polymer could enhance bioplastics and adhesives

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Colloid

A new process involving the layering of a polymer with silica-based nanoparticles has the potential to enhance the properties of pressure sensitive adhesive labels, water-borne coatings and biodegradable materials, claims a UK research team.

The University of Warwick team, led by Dr Stefan Bon, has created a soap free emulsion polymerization process which makes colloid particles of polymer dispersed in water and in a one step process adds nanometre sized silica-based particles to the mix.

The scientists said that the nanoparticles than coat the polymer colloids with a layer, ‘battering’ it much like coating a fish in bread crumbs.

Bon told FoodProductionDaily.com that the technology results in a versatile polymer latex product that could be fine tuned to produce food packaging that would allow moisture or oxygen to pass through the material in a controlled manner.

“As a result of our research, we now have the tools to make these types of nano-based polymers but they have, as yet, not been produced on a large scale; thus we are only at an early stage of evaluating their commercial applications,”​ said Bon.

Adhesives

He said, however, that initial tests have shown major improvements in the properties of adhesives for packaging using the silica-based particles.

Bon envisages that the newly developed technology might be most applicable to multi-layered biodegradable packaging which could gain more robustness and water barrier characteristics through the addition of a nano-particle coating.

He argues that the process would not be detrimental to the ‘green’ profile of these bio materials as the silica-based particles are derived from sand and clay.

Cost-effective process

The Warwick researchers said that previous attempts at creating this type of polymer always resulted in the requirement of several steps to achieve the end product.

Bon explained that, in contrast, this new method is done in a single step and is, as such, cost effective as it cuts dramatically the time need to create the nano-based materials.

He added that the newly developed process also enables the polymer to be produced in bulk, in soft or hard versions, on standard industrial equipment.

“Our industrial partners including Unilever are very excited about this project and where it might lead.

“We would anticipate commericalisation of this new type of polymer in three to fours years, depending on the particular application,”​ concluded Bon.

Consumer perception

Meanwhile, a recent study, published in the journal Appetite​, concluded that consumers have fewer concerns over packaging using nanoparticles than food utilizing the same technology.

The goal of the study from ETH Zurich's Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED) was to identify which food applications are more likely to be accepted by the public and which ones less likely.

Existing and potential applications were briefly described in the survey documentation and participants were asked to assess various risk dimensions and benefits associated with applications such as a chemical salmonella detector and packaging that protects comestibles from UV light.

The ETH researchers concluded that individually modifiable foods and health-promoting feed received the highest risk ratings, while applications related to better food safety received the highest benefit ratings.

They also found that older respondents perceived packaging applications as significantly more beneficial than younger respondents.

Market forecast

Estimates of the future market for nanotechnology range from €750bn to €2,000bn by 2015 according to the European Commission, with predictions for the number of new jobs created by the industry standing at around 10 million.

However, the technology has suffered from a lack of public understanding and consumer concerns over the safety of some of its applications.

Article: Multilayered Nanocomposite Polymer Colloids using Emulsion Polymerization Stabilized by Solid Particles​Source: Journal of the American Chemical Society​Published online ahead of print doi/abs/10.1021/ja807242kAuthors: P. J Colver, C. A. L. Colard, S.A. F. Bon

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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