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Report Polylactic acid

Report Polylactic acid is a polymer which is made of renewable raw materials and is available in the market on an industrial scale. (Photo: ecopuls) Bioplastics in Practical Use A project by the Austrian Plastics Cluster providesexperience with PLA This article is an excerpt from a comprehensive report of the Austrian Plastics Cluster. Bioplastics: From the Lab to the Product Shelves An EU project led by the St. Pölten office of the Austrian plastics cluster has developed practical knowledge in the use of bioplastics which has been further extended thanks to the participation of numerous industry partners. A number of food producing companies process products from organic farms. They could improve the sustainability of their overall product if the films that are used for packaging were also made from renewable raw materials. Within a CORNET project (COllective Research NETwork), from 1998 to 2001, practical knowledge in this subject has been developed, and now many companies benefit from it. Initiated by ecoplus, the business agency of Lower Austria and supported by the government of Lower Austria an application was submitted for financial support. Eleven institutes from six European countries, as well as a large number of company partners (20 from Austria alone), finally came together to pursue the common goal. “We want to learn how to deal with bioplastics,” says Alexander Komenda, who managed the entire project for the plastics cluster. The participating companies invest in the project, but each Euro from an Austrian company has been quadrupled by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency FFG. Overall the project volume totals 1.6 million Euros. In addition, the project was limited to material already available in the market and produced on a significant scale. Another definition set the benchmark for the project even higher, namely that any material used, including additives, must be biodegradable. Everyone Does What He Does Best Based on this general framework, the participants started to develop a project structure. Each of the countries involved, together with the respective scientific partner, took the lead in a different field. The experts in materials selection came from France, with the ‘Institut National des Sciences Appliquées’. It was important to take into account a series of physical properties which are essential to the processability and the practical use of bioplastics. Different applications require permeability or barrier towards certain gases, others need resistance to temperatures exceeding 60°C. The German ‘Institute for Polymers’ (DKI) was in charge of testing the raw materials. At the beginning it had to be decided whether standard test procedures for conventional plastics were applicable to bioplastics. Some methods had to be adapted to the special characteristics of the biopolymer. However, the results of these tests were necessary to characterise the materials to be used for the subsequent project phases. As Komenda says, “All participants were given large amounts of the same material in order to achieve comparable results.” The Slovenian ‘Tool & Die Development Center’ took the lead in processing the bioplastics on machines which are commonly used in the production of packaging, in close cooperation with the industry partners 40 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/11] Vol. 6

The Polish institute ‘Cobro’ coordinated the tests of the new packaging materials in order to identify their behaviour under particular stress situations (e.g. bumping and banging during transport in trucks). Experts from the Austrian Research Institute for Chemistry and Technology (OFI) examined whether the packaging material made of polylactic acid (PLA) meets the special requirements of the food sector. Finally, ‘Celabor’ from Belgium was in charge of testing thermoformed plastic films from the waste-management end of the supply chain, as well as life-cycle analysis. This is a hot issue, as the ecological balance is one of the main arguments for the use of bioplastics. The challenge was to develop a transparent, easily adaptable report, which would withstand technical discussions and allow an emotional discussion to be seen from a more objective point of view. One option was to clearly identify certain measurable parameters such as the portion of carbon from renewable raw materials, which can be determined by radiocarbon dating. Application Food Packaging Now a stage has been reached where the raw material, PLA, can be characterised regarding its processability as a packaging material. It is known that it will be difficult to improve diffusion barriers without moving on to multilayer systems. It is known on which parameters temperature stability depends. It is known how to design production processes in order to obtain a usable product. In addition, knowledge has been distributed among the participating companies. “Ultimately it is important to create a product which a company can sell. Then the companies will need people to manufacture the product and we from the cluster will have done a good job,” Komenda summarises. It is exactly to this objective that the cooperation with the food cluster is committed. PLA – Properties of the Material and How to Improve Them PLA is available in different qualities in the market. A specific task of the CORNET project dealt with the properties of the materials and developed the basis for their improvement with suitable additives, guided by INSA Lyon. u Photo: ecoplus bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/11] Vol. 6 41

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