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Foam ReBioFoam Project

Foam ReBioFoam Project Innovative packaging solution Officially launched in February 2009, the ReBioFoam project (Renewable Bio-polymer Foams), financed by the European Union as part of the 7 th Framework Programme, has just entered in its final phase. As its title suggests, the project targeted the development of a new biobased and biodegradable foam to be applied as a protective packaging solution alternative to expanded materials of fossil origin, traditionally used in the sector. The expansion of the biopolymers has been obtained by using microwave technology, which takes advantage of the inner water content of the material as expanding agent. With a targeted density of as low as 40 kg/m³, the novel biobased material will be used for the production of biodegradable 3D-shaped foamed package systems. These new products do compete with currently applied technologies such as various moulded, semi-rigid and foamed plastics, which are generally less protective and less expensive than resilient foams. As a result, from the technical perspective, the targeted reference market for the novel biodegradable foamed packaging is the one related to the distribution packaging of higher volume consumer goods such as toys, light electronics, computers and computer peripherals, stereo equipment and small appliances. The ReBioFoam project has been coordinated by Novamont, Novara, Italy worldwide leading company in the area of materials and biochemicals developed through the integration of chemistry and agriculture. It has involved a 10 companies-strong consortium made up of partners from 8 different countries. R&D activities have been carried out in their major part by a core group of research and knowledge intensive industrial partners (Novamont, C-Tech Innovation, FEN and Chemtex Italia), in cooperation with a limited group of research centres of excellence (Fraunhofer Institut Institute of Applied Polymer Research, Czech Technical University and ITENE), packaging producing companies (Complas Pack and Recticel) and a large player in the area of household appliances (Electrolux). 40 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/13] Vol. 8

Foam By Fererica Mastrianni Project Funding Officer Danielen Turati R&D Materials Technologist Novamont Novara, Italy From a technical point of view, the process that leads to the production of the new bio-foams can be described by two main steps: (I) formulation and processing, i.e. the extrusion of the base materials with small quantities of biobased and/ or renewable additives and subsequent conditioning, in order to produce pellets with specific tailored parameters for the following expansion phase; (II) microwave assisted expansion and moulding. During this second step, pellets are transferred into a microwave-transparent mould and further processed by microwaves at controlled temperature. Rapid dielectric heating of the pellets causes the pellets to foam in the mould, thus resulting in a 3-D shaped foamed product. The feasibility of the foaming process has been demonstrated on a semi-industrial scale through the development of an automated pilot line able to produce the defined demonstrator (porthole spacer for washing machine) with the required density (40 kg/m 3 ). In parallel, a new packaging element with corner shape has been designed, characterized by different bearing surfaces which may be assembled in different ways to have elements with different shapes. The pilot line consists of four sequential stations. In the first, pellets are stored in a stirred tank and dosed properly in a bottom-half mould. The mould is then introduced into the oven’s cavity and closed mechanically: microwave irradiation automatically switches on and the pellets do expand inside the rotating mould, releasing steam. During the third step, the bottom-half mould is pulled out from the oven and transferred to an extraction unit, where the foamed product is removed by two mechanical extractors and a manipulator. The fourth and last stage consists of a conditioning unit, where the mould is transferred and thermally conditioned through an IR lamp or an air jet before restarting a new process cycle. The foamed starch has been characterized in terms of mechanical properties standards of packaging materials. The tests performed demonstrated that the biofoam has good good mechanical as well as thermal and electrical insulating properties, confirming the possibility to effectively use it as protective packaging for small as well for big appliances. The success of the ReBioFoam project opens up new important routes in terms of environmental sustainability and limitation of the use of non-renewable resources. Biodegradation and compostability tests have been carried out onto a 3D-shaped ReBioFoam demonstrator according to CEN Standard on Biodegradability and Compostability (EN 13432:2004). Disintegration under Home Composting conditions has been additionally evaluated according to UNI 11355:2010, demonstrating that ReBioFoam material does disintegrate even at low temperature conditions. The outcomes of the Life Cycle Analysis applied to the new packaging system show that its use would offer significant advantages in terms of reduction of GHG emissions (e.g. fossil CO 2 ) and the use of non renewable resources (e.g. oil). From a waste management perspective, the use of biobased and compostable expanded packaging systems, compared to conventional expanded products, helps to divert these innovative packaging from landfill and conventional polymer recycling schemes to existing organic recycling systems. Landfill would pass from about 52% (current scenario with conventional packaging systems) to 37% (alternative scenario with a compostable packaging system), whereas recycling would pass from 0,5% (conventional product) to 40% (compostable prototype), without modifying the waste collection schemes currently in place, also with beneficial effects on associated direct and indirect waste management costs. bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/13] Vol. 8 41

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