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Issue 03/2017

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News daily upated news at MATER-BI carrier bags biodegrade completely in anaerobic digestion plants Novamont’s carrier bags were shown to degrade completely when processed in German anaerobic digestion plants, found a German study. No bioplastic residue was found at the end of the composting process in any of the samples examined in the four test sites. A scientific study conducted by IGlux Witzenhausen and Witzenhausen-Institut examined the use of biodegradable bags made from MATER-BI bioplastic. Tests were carried out at plants using equipment made by four different companies: Kompogas, Thoeni, Bekon and WTT. The bags were monitored during pre-treatment, anaerobic digestion, post-composting and maturation at each plant. The percentage by weight of Mater-Bi in the input material was between 3.5 % and 3.8 %. Degradation began during the anaerobic stage and was completed during composting. In total, the process took between five and ten weeks, depending on the plant. No Mater-Bi residue was found in any of the samples examined at the end of the test, demonstrating that it had completely degraded in all four plants. The test was commissioned by Novamont in Germany, where organic waste plays a significant role in the national renewable energy plan and is increasingly used to produce biogas. Efficient collection of this type of waste is therefore crucial for recovering the most energy-rich component, namely kitchen waste. At present, however, even where separate collection of organic waste is in place, studies show that a significant percentage of organic waste is still sent to landfill. The test was entirely successful, with complete degradation of Mater-Bi carrier bags within the time normally needed for the process at all four plants, which are representative of the majority of anaerobic digestion facilities employed to process organic waste in Germany, eliminating any reservations about use of the bags. MT Anaerobic Digestion Plant (generic photo) Biobased and biodegradable plastics Biobased plastics can be mechanically recycled just like conventional plastics and biodegradable plastics are not a solution to the plastic soup in the oceans. These are two key findings in the report ‘Biobased and biodegradable plastics – Facts and Figures’, recently released by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research (Wageningen, The Netherlands). There are many misunderstandings about biodegradable and biobased plastics, some of them quite persistent. As this makes the choice to switch to these materials difficult for companies, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research was commissioned by the Dutch government to carry out an inventory of the current scientific research into these plastics. “Companies and interest groups can state anything,” points out Christiaan Bolck, programme manager for materials at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “This report is intended for those who wish to learn the facts. And it shows that the story is often more nuanced than it seems.” The lack of clarity is partly due to terminology. The seemingly simple term ‘bioplastic’, for instance, normally refers to plastics made mostly from plant biomass, but has also been used as a synonym for biodegradable plastic. These are, however, two completely separate characteristics, and the report clearly distinguishes between them. The confusion surrounding biobased and biodegradable plastics is in part also due to assertions that lack nuance. For instance, saying that all plastic is bad for the environment is no more correct than stating that all bioplastics are green and good for the environment. Such statements are, however, often made by both companies and environmental action groups in the market, and they eventually take on a life of their own. For example, we sometimes hear that the net CO 2 production of biobased plastics barely differs from that of fossil-fuel plastics as any savings in oil are lost due to the energy consumption of the production process. “However, our report shows that the production of many biobased plastics does result in less net greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastic,” Bolck says. The report also records facts relevant to current debates about plastic packaging waste. For instance, it has been shown that most of the biobased and biodegradable plastics currently on the market can be mechanically recycled just as easily as ordinary types of plastic, but also that biodegradable plastic is no panacea to the environmental problems caused by littering. Whether – and, especially, how fast – a type of biodegradable plastic is broken down by microorganisms depends largely on the environment in which it ends up. “There are biodegradable plastics that completely break down in the sea within a few months, but seabirds can still choke on a biodegradable plastic bag,” Bolck explains. MT 6 bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/17] Vol. 12

News Bio-concrete for Mars Working with NASA, civil engineers at Stanford University have developed a form of bio-concrete that humans could produce on Mars or the moon – and that might have important benefits here on Earth. It’s not just pie in the sky. NASA would like to send humans to Mars by 2030. But if humans actually do reach Mars, or even establish settlements on the moon, they would need thousands of tons of concrete to survive. That’s because both Mars and the moon are bombarded constantly with both lethal radiation and micrometeorites that would quickly punch holes into any ordinary structure. Since it’s impossible to ship tons of cement from Earth to Mars, the best bet is for humans to start making it when they arrive. Together, researchers of NASA’s Ames Research Center together Stanford School of Engineering have used animal protein to make a promising form of bio-concrete that could solve problems on Mars as well as Earth. Indeed, the production of concrete accounts for 5 % of all human-generated carbon emissions – a significant share. It’s the binding agent – the boiled limestone – that accounts for much of that. In search for a less energy-intensive alternative, the researchers turned to biology. Living organisms use proteins to make things as tough as shells, bones and teeth, so the researchers began working on a concrete bound together with a protein from bovine blood. The protein is a fairly cheap by-product of slaughterhouses, and it is known to become very gluey when mixed with soil. To replicate the conditions on Mars and the moon, Lepech has combined the protein with simulated extraterrestrial soils that are similar to what’s on Mars and the moon. And because Mars has much lower gravity than Earth – bad for cement mixing – the researchers did their mixing with a vacuum technology that is used to make the composite materials in products such as boat hulls. MT Ordinary brick, left, and experimental brick made of a protein/lunar regolith mixture. (Photo Mia Allende) bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/17] Vol. 12 7

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