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From Science & Research

From Science & Research Design challenges with biobased plastics Biobased plastics, made from renewable resources, are nowadays well-known materials in the packaging industry in many countries. In more durable products though, the application of biobased plastics is still something of a rarity. To stimulate the adoption of biobased plastics in more lasting applications an important role is foreseen for designers. Because designers, both professionals and students, lack a real knowledge of biobased plastics, the CleanTech research programme of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, started a research project focussed on various aspects of designing for and with biobased plastics. What are the challenges that designers meet? Although biobased plastics are not new (in fact the first plastics we know were bio-based (cf. bM 04/2014), the current generation of designers and engineers was raised and educated in an era of petrochemical plastics. The renewed attention to biobased plastics only commenced some 15 years ago. Biodegradable biobased plastics, such as PLA and PHA, are often used for packaging purposes. But biobased plastics, whether or not biodegradable, also become a more and more interesting alternative for more durable applications, such as consumer electronics, textiles, automotive parts, toys and sporting goods. Not only the transition towards a biobased and circular economy can be a motive to go biobased (for example with the biobased equivalents of PP, PE and PET), but also new biobased plastics with specific material properties can offer valuable advantages. Until now biobased plastics have not been used for a wide range of applications. Reasons for this are the higher material price, limited feedstock supply and the lack of clarity on biodegradability of both biobased and non-biobased plastics. But ignorance of designers of the unique characteristics and possibilities of biobased plastics is also a reason. Practical tools to fill the knowledge gap One of the aims of our research project at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences is to provide designers with practical tools to lower the threshold to biobased plastics. Together with students and teachers of the Bachelor of Engineering, the team worked on several cases in which product manufacturers were asked to (re)design a product with biobased plastics. Examples are furniture and products for horticulture. Also new biobased plastics, such as Glycix, made of citric acid and glycerine, were studied by examining their unique properties and by designing and prototyping applications. Based on these cases and on interviews with designers, producers and product manufacturers three major challenges were identified: • I do not know a lot about the possibilities of current and upcoming biobased plastics. How do I know which biobased plastic is suitable for my product? • LCA’s (Life Cycle Analyses) are very time consuming and lack the data of most biobased plastics. How can I assess the value, both ecologically and economically, of applying biobased plastics in comparison with alternative materials? • It is difficult to distinguish a biobased plastic from petrochemical plastics. How can I show the consumer that a product is made of a biobased plastic by its design? To cope with these challenges three practical tools were developed: a material selection tool, a product quickscan and a set of design rules for the look and feel of biobased plastic products. Fig. 1 and 2: Prototype tables made with Glycix, a new biobased material developed by the University of Amsterdam. 32 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/14] Vol. 9

From Science & Research Bioplastics4U: material selection Already at the concept stage of a new product, or at the start of a redesign, designers think about material selection. The desired functionality of a product is an important starting point to make a preliminary choice about the material used. Together with Wageningen UR (University and Research centre) a tool was developed that shows designers which bioplastics, both biobased and biodegradable, might be suitable for the manufacture of their new product. By answering 10 simple questions about the desired functionality of the product, the designer gets an indication of which bioplastic fits his application. The first two questions address to what extend the product should be biobased and/or should it be biodegradable. The next five questions concern properties such as transparency, dimensional stability and mechanical properties. The last three questions relate to the maturity, availability and costs of the materials. The tool shows whether there are bioplastics that meet all criteria or not. It makes designers aware of the choices Fig. 3: Plastics cups, both biobased and petrochemical, that were evaluated in the Look and Feel study. INTAREMA ® The new system generation from EREMA. Self-service. Redefined. Reaching perfect pellet quality at the press of a button: the new INTAREMA ® features the intelligent Smart Start operating concept, bringing together production efficiency and remarkably straightforward operation. This is all about usability. Including an ergonomic touchscreen, practical recipe management and automated standby mode. CHOOSE THE NUMBER ONE. bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/14] Vol. 9 33

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