One objection to bio-based plastics is that they’re often made from edible agricultural products – not a good long-term plan when we have a growing population of over seven billion people to feed. But this objection hasn’t stopped researchers from continuing to work on ways of making useful polymeric materials from fundamental foodstuffs, as sampled below (you might also check out “part 2” of this series of posts on a related theme):
Soybeans: A USA-based bioplastics maker reportedly is to receive funding from the United Soybean Board to bring soy-based resins to market. The company, Biobent Polymers, offers its “Panacea” brand materials, expecting about 10 million pounds (4.5 million kg) of sales this year and over 30 million pounds (16 million kg) of production capacity by 2013, according to reporting by Plastics News.
Sugar: A building insulation spray-foam based on table sugar (sucrose) is positioned be an alternative to petrochemical-based foams. Called SucraSeal, the foam reportedly has 25% “green content” and is said to be impervious to rodents, insects, mold, mildew, and water.
Milk: Another kind of foam – commonly known as Styrofoam – is being targeted for replacement by a foam based on milk protein (casein), clay, and a monosaccharide, according to researchers at Case Western Reserve University. They freeze-dry the blend to create an aerogel that can be cured and used for packaging, insulation, and cushions.
But at least there’s some good news for vegetarians: Some medical resin makers have committed to providing “animal-free” plastics. These compounds reportedly do not contain ingredients like beef tallow-based stearic acid lubricants. Or in other words: No bull.
Mike Tolinski is the author of Plastics and Sustainability, published in Oct. 2011 by Wiley-Scrivener, and he is Contributing Editor for Plastics Engineering magazine of the Society of Plastics Engineers in the USA. His views have been shaped by his engineering, university, and journalism experience in the plastics and manufacturing industries over the past 21 years.