The European Union produces just around 110 million tons of animal and vegetal waste each year, 30 % of which is directly produced by the agriculture, hunting and forestry sector1. These huge amounts of residues and processing by-products from the agro-food industry represent a clear problem from both, the economic and environmental point of view. Society must face the challenge of recovering and exploiting that waste to generate new renewable materials, as this would allow us to reduce landfill use as well as our dependence on materials from non-renewable sources.
Both the challenge posed by oil-based plastic manufacturing, which accounts to 200 million tonnes per year worldwide, as well as the growing commitment to a bio-based economy have made different industrial sectors and research centres start seeking alternatives. Thus, over the last few years we have seen a growing trend towards bio-plastics manufacturing, and more recently, attention has been focused in trying to produce natural polymers from farming waste, cellulose or corn and potato starch.
Bioplastics offer good prospects both for society and industry. These materials are well received by consumers, who are increasingly aware of the need to look after the environment while dealing with the imminent danger of climate change. In addition, governmental institutions are starting to take into account the rising demand to replace raw materials coming from petroleum with materials from renewable resources.
Advantages of bioplastics
- Carbon foot-print reduction.
- Absence of non-renewable fuel oil consumption.
- Reduction in non-biodegradable waste and pollutants.
- Absence of harmful additives such as Phthalates or Bisphenol A.
Additional advantages if produced from agro-food waste streams
- Valorization of the waste into marketable products
- Reduction of pollution derived from waste treatment
- Further energy saving and carbon foot-print reduction.
So far, the use of bioplastics has been mainly precluded to materials with limited mechanical and thermal requirements, such as plastic bags or other small single use items.
The need to combine the reduction of waste streams, particularly those raising from bio-based resources and to find innovative bioadditives and bioresins to improve the properties and competitiveness of alternative materials to the traditional polymers and composites is therefore a necessary research priority.
The BARBARA project will chemically engineer starch and other hemicellulosic material from corn industry side streams. Bioadditives from lemon, carrot, pomegranate or almond shell residues will then be incorporated in engineering bioplastic matrices and combined with reinforcing agents to obtain (inorganic-organic) hybrid nano-biocomposites which will be compatibilized with polyamides into high impact strength and thermal resistance materials with further interesting functionalities (colour, odour, bacteriostatic surfaces, etc).
1 Efficient Europe: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/eussd/pdf/bio_foodwaste_report.pdf).