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Fibers & Textiles Bioplastic fibres from milk By Michael Thielen Nature produces a versatile resource, namely milk. Incredible amounts of milk have to be disposed of every day because it is longer marketable and legislation says that it should not be used as food. Qmilch Deutschland GmbH (Hanover, Germany) have developed an innovative and unique technology for the production of textile fibres made from the milk protein, casein. Qmilk ® produces textile fibres for various applications including clothing, home textiles, industrial applications, medical equipment and automotive equipment. And the company is working continuously to advance the unique biopolymer with an excellent product quality and an outstanding performance in the field of man-made fibres. The company Founder of the company is Dipl.-Biologist Anke Domaske who originally was searching for chemically untreated clothing for her stepfather who had cancer, and eventually for other people who were suffering from allergies, for example. Then she had the idea of creating a product that can not only help people, but is also good for the environment itself. Eventually milk proteins came to her notice. Such proteins had already been processed into textiles in the 1930s, but the fibres were treated with various chemicals and produced in a complex process. Qmilk began as a classic start-up – however, not in a garage, but in a kitchen. Since the company and its development is not a university spin-off, there was initially no laboratory to work in, just the idea of developing a fibre that is chemically untreated. The necessary equipment was bought in a grocery store and built into a laboratory for about € 200. In April 2011 the Qmilch GmbH was founded. There is now a group of companies – Qmilch IP GmbH, Qmilch Holding GmbH and Qmilch Deutschland GmbH – engaged in the production and development of biopolymers, based on milk proteins and other natural and renewable raw materials. 24 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/13] Vol. 8

Fibers & Textiles What is casein? Casein is a protein that makes up to 80% of milk protein and is thus one of the major proteins in milk. Casein is employed as a binder and excipient. In milk the casein consists of 18 out of the known 22 amino acids. Casein has an extremely high content of glutamine and calcium. With approximately 20% of glutamine no other protein contains as much glutamine as casein. “Sustainability is an integral part of our corporate culture and we are committed to our corporate values i.e. to work sustainably and in a socially responsible manner”, says Anastasia Bresler, PR Manager of Qmilk.”In the focus of our sustainable policy are our products, innovations and technologies. We set new standards in the field of man-made fibre.” The raw material: No food To develop sustainable innovations and processes and to take advantage of natural materials, are the cornerstones of the Qmilk company‘s philosophy. The casein, which is the main resource of Qmilk’s products, is made from raw milk that is no Ionger suitable for sale and, under the current legislation cannot be used as food. ln Germany alone every year 1.9 million tonnes of milk must be disposed of. Globally more than 100 million tonnes of milk are wasted every year [4]. Reasons for this are, for example, heat, cellular problems, or germs. This kind of milk must be be disposed of at the expense of the farmer. In many cases this milk ends up – albeit prohibited – in the sewerage. But not only milk that does not fulfill the hygiene requirements of the dairy industry is abuntantly available. There are also waste products e.g. from cheese making etc. that need to be disposed. However, this milk still contains valuable ingredients and offers great potential for technical purposes. “We use a raw material which inevitably becomes available and thus we only extend its product life cycle”, says Anastasia. “Additionally, we pay attention to sustainable animal husbandry by our suppliers.” The bioplastic The principle of converting milk into a biopolymer and eventually into fibre products is based on the concept of white biotechnology, one of today’s key technologies. The biotechnological advances allow many new industrial processes which are cheaper and more ecological. In addition, the use of renewable resources was brought to the fore, and we all strive to reduce the use of raw material and energy. The advantage of the new manufacturing process is the ability to produce a biopolymer comprised of 100% natural and renewable raw materials - milk. “The production of 1kg of the biopolymer needs only 5 minutes and a maximum of 2 liters of water”, explains Ines Klinger, head of technical development at Qmilch. “This implies a particular level of cost efficiency and ensures a minimum of CO 2 emissions.” There are lots of options for modification of the polymer which offers the potential for numerous applications. However, one has to keep in mind the fact that Qmilk is a cross-linked, thermoset material. The cross-linking of the molecules makes the material (including the fibres) water resistant, as opposed to approaches in the past when chemicals had to be added to achieve water resistant caseinbased fibres. The material can be made flexible or rigid. It absorbs colour very easily and has good colour brilliance. It is antibacterial and therefore complements a wide range of applications even outside the fibre and textile industry. Qmilk is resistant to water, ethanol, acetone, methanol, fuels, and oils, weak acids, alkalis and minerals. Its temperature stability is above 200°C and the density is at 1.17 g/cm³. The Qmilk biopolymer is compostable in a few weeks. bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/13] Vol. 8 25

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