Scientists will look at wastes and residues, such as wheat and maize straw, energy crops like Elephant grass and willow, to produce biosuccinic acid, a chemical building block used in producing bioplastics.
Waitrose & food tray producer Sharpak
As a result of the study, the consortium will produce biodegradable packaging in association with UK retailer Waitrose and food tray producer Sharpak.
Dr Jeremy Woods from the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London is also working on an Integrated Sustainability Assessment Tool (ISAT), with LCAworks and the University of Geneva, to help industries better understand techno- economic issues associated with products made from agricultural waste streams.
“To move forward with bioplastics, we need to investigate cheap, readily available and sustainable alternatives that are also economically viable and socially acceptable,” he said.
“Our ISAT toolkit will support the continuous development of sustainable production practices for biosuccinium production within the EU member states, and ultimately increase the viability of farming whilst reducing the amount of plastic produced from fossil fuels.
“This project is an excellent example of the kind of ‘whole-systems’ thinking that is needed if we are going to move to more sustainable ways of using the land, and at the same time mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
Woods and his team will look at opportunities to develop smarter and more efficient ways to produce the feedstocks for biosuccinic acid production, such as integrating different crops.
Land management practices
They will also look at land management practices to see if they can improve the resilience of farming to climate change.
The researchers believe this work is necessary to ensure bioplastics are a commercially viable and environmentally acceptable option and can be more widely used.
The environmental drive to move away from plastics made from fossil fuels has over the past few years generated a number of innovations in bioplastics, including the process of extracting the biosuccinic acid building blocks from corn and wheat grain.
However, high hopes for commercial exploitation of this process foundered, as these raw materials were already in demand in the food and animal feed industries, leading to concerns about competition.
Funded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIIT) the Consortium is an initiative of the Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest public-private partnership which focuses on ways to mitigate climate change.
Consortium partners include the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, French biorefining company CIMV and Reverdia, based in the Netherlands, which will contribute its Biosuccinium sustainable biosuccinic acid technology to the project.