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November 2019

Why Manufacturers Should Really Know What It Means to Embrace Bioplastics

Why Manufacturers Should Really Know What It Means to Embrace Bioplastics 1140 570 Cristina Diaconu

Look past the media hype around bioplastics and it’s difficult to know where to really start. What is a bioplastic? What is biodegradability? Are bioplastics ready for the mainstream? These may seem like innocuous questions, but the reality is not so straightforward. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, director at industrial parts supplier EU Automation, sheds light on what manufacturers should really know before embracing bioplastics.

Back in October 2018, following days of stormy weather and rough seas on the UK coastline, Brean Beach, in Burnham, Somerset was left littered with rubbish washed up with the tide. While this wasn’t exceptional — marine debris is often deposited on the beach following a storm — when one of the Burnham Coastguard Rescue Team posted a picture on Facebook of an old plastic bottle they’d found on the beach, it sparked a wider debate around plastic pollution.

You see, the bottle wasn’t any old bottle. It was a bottle of Fairy washing-up liquid from at least 1971. What’s more, the bottle was in pristine condition despite having weathered the seas for nearly fifty years. When you consider the fact that a typical plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose in the ocean, and that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic seeps into our oceans every year, it’s clear to see why the incident struck a chord with so many people on social media.

Biodegradable or bioplastic?

While the terms bioplastic and biodegradable plastic have been widely used, they are somewhat of a misnomer. Bioplastics, as the name suggests, are plastics made entirely, or in part, from organic, naturally occurring feedstocks. Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, are plastics that can be broken down naturally by microorganisms to accepted industry standards.

However, this is where we need to do some myth-busting. While all biodegradable plastics are bioplastics, not all bioplastics are biodegradable. Take Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle, for example, which is partly plant-based. The bottle is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), created through the polymerisation of a mixture of organic and petrochemical-based compounds. So, while it can be called a bioplastic owing to its bio-based feedstock, it will never biologically break down.

This is not to say that bioplastics made entirely from plant-based compounds don’t exist. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of bioplastics made from starches derived from corn and sugar cane, that are converted into polylactic acid (PLA), a type of plastic that is becoming popular for food packaging and other single-use plastics.

It’s important to note that while entirely plant-based bioplastics are biodegradable, they are not necessarily all compostable at home. This brings us onto our second misnomer: biodegradability. Although bioplastics may biodegrade in industrial composters that offer the high levels of heat, pressure, pH and microbial environment necessary for degradation, these conditions are rarely, if ever, present in the natural world. This means that even bioplastics derived from entirely natural sources, may still never break down in the sea.

What this means for industry

As a manufacturer, you may be considering playing your part in tackling the plastic crisis by addressing the use of plastics in your products or in the parts you use in your manufacturing operations. Bioplastics may seem like a tempting option, but if they’re no better for the environment, it may not be worth the cost of adapting your infrastructure to adopt them.

Breakthroughs in bioplastics are happening as we speak. For example, biopolymer specialist Teysha Technologies has developed a bioplastic whose properties can be tuned to break down in the natural environment shortly after entering the sea.

Professor Karen L. Wooley, inventor and CTO at Teysha explains: “Over the past couple of decades, we’ve become keenly aware of the potential negative impacts that may occur for polymer materials that persist beyond their useful lifetime. This has led us to consider the full lifecycle of plastics at the initial design stage.

“A significant advantage of our technology is the use of natural, sustainable feedstocks to generate polycarbonate materials with the ability to tune the physical, mechanical and chemical properties by controlling the chemistry, formulation and polymerization conditions.

“The strength, toughness, durability and longevity of our polymers are dependent on the properties of the specific monomers used in polymerization and can be tuned for various applications. Our material properties range from flexible to rigid, with degradation occurring over a period of weeks to years, depending on the polymer composition and the environmental conditions.

“The main mechanism of polymer degradation is through hydrolytic degradation, allowing for breakdown in any environment containing moisture and does not require microbial activity, anaerobic conditions or industrial composting.”

Managing obsolescence

Truly flexible biopolymers may still be years from commercialisation. In the meantime, if obsolescence management is your priority, then using industrial parts made from existing plastics may offer a way of extending the useful lifetime of the part in question. Even after they break, these parts can be repaired, refurbished and returned to operational use. This philosophy or repair, reuse, recycle should continue even once more viable bioplastics enter the marketplace.

It seems that embracing bioplastics is not as straightforward as it first seems. For those in industry, understanding the mechanics of materials will go a long way in allowing manufacturers to embrace not just bioplastics, but engaging with materials more sustainably altogether.

Link to the original article –

London-based Teysha Technologies raises £1.2m

London-based Teysha Technologies raises £1.2m 898 505 Alara Basul

Bioplastics company Teysha Technologies has successfully raised £1.2m of investment, supported by Angel Investment Network (AIN), the world’s largest online angel investing platform.

London-based Teysha has created a patented, renewable, fully biodegradable plastic substitute, using waste from landfill to creating polymers for hundreds of different applications.

The fundraise was carried out on the AIN platform, with the investment being used to deliver prototypes and secure contracts. For each contract Teysha conduct specific prototyping to ensure the material needed for that application is suitable for the job. Teysha, which launched in 2017 own two patents already with more planned.

Duncan Clark, Director of Operations at Teysha Technologies said: “”We are delighted with the interest we have received from AIN investors. Made from all-natural and inedible agricultural waste streams, Teysha`s second-generation bioplastic is the result of decades of R&D. One of the biggest challenges facing bioplastics, as this new industry evolves, concerns the fate of the products when their use has ended, our product tackles this by breaking down to its constituent earth-friendly organic building blocks.

“Our patented tunable system means we can make a large range of materials for multiple applications with different properties and hugely varied lifespans. We’re looking forward to the exciting applications we can develop alongside multiple industry sectors with this technology.”

Sam Louis, Head of Consultancy, who led the fundraise added: “Teysha’s technology creates an incredible opportunity for how we produce materials. The investors on our platform were really drawn to its ability to answer the growing demand for sustainable plastics. The product’s inherent versatility and the ability to create so many different products depending on need.

“It’s exactly the sort of company we love to be involved with and we have seen a significant rise in interest among investors for impact-led businesses of this type.”

Teysha is one of the companies featured on the new SeedTribe website. SeedTribe, powered by AIN, is an online community connecting profit-with-purpose startups with expertise and investment.

Link to the original article –

Tuneable bioplastics

Tuneable bioplastics 800 534 Engineering Materials

Plastics pose a problem for the planet – from the fossil fuels used to produce them to the harmful chemicals released during their slow degradation. But plastic is so ubiquitous that giving it up presents a complex challenge.

Plastic has become such an integral part of life in the Western world that it’s often easy to forget that the material was only invented in the 19th century. This is just as well, as many of the durable plastics in single-use products, such as bottled water and six-pack rings, can take up to 450 years to degrade. Today, we could probably find remnants of the first plastics ever manufactured still laying in landfill or floating in our oceans.

The longevity of plastics wouldn’t be as acute a problem if it weren’t for the scale of their use. Polymers are remarkably versatile materials, boasting wide-ranging characteristics from durability and stiffness to tensile strength and flexibility, depending on the specific polymer used. This versatility means plastics feature everywhere from structural reinforcement to disposable packaging.

In March 2019, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published its New Plastics Economy report, which noted that 8 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced every year by 30 global brands. Almost 50% of this packaging was produced by Coca Cola, totalling three million tonnes. Much of this packaging will be single use, so the majority of the eight million tonnes produced this year will be plastic pollution next year.

The problem goes much further than just a build-up of waste plastic cluttering the land and sea. Because plastic is a man-made material, it is generally difficult to break down naturally. For most naturally occurring materials, decomposition occurs because bacteria consume the larger material and break it down into smaller, useful compounds.

Breaking the chain

Unless they are recycled or incinerated, plastic products that are discarded end up in one of two places. They are either disposed of with general waste and destined to reside in landfill, or are thrown away as litter, which can then wind up in the oceans. According to figures published in Science in 2015, anywhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic finds its way to sea every year.

“For the tonnes of plastic that are washed away into the ocean, ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the main factor influencing degradation,” explains Dr Ashlee Jahnke, director of research at renewable polymer producer Teysha Technologies (pictured). “The decomposition process of plastic involves the long, complex polymer chains of the material being separated into smaller chains through a process known as chain scission, whereby the linkages holding the atoms of the material together break.”

Although it can take more than 450 years for plastic to fully degrade, the process of chain scission happens at a much faster rate, with the first chains breaking in under one year.

In our oceans, this poses two fundamental problems. The first is that the smaller the polymer debris is, the easier it is for organisms to ingest. The second problem posed by plastic degradation in our waters is that of the chemicals produced during chain scission.

For the plastics that stay on land and are buried in landfill, the process of degradation is similar. As many pieces of plastic waste in landfill will not be exposed to sunlight or UV radiation in the same way as sea plastics, the factor affecting degradation is heat.

“As a dumping ground for waste, landfills contain a mix of many types of solid waste, most of which does not have the same trouble degrading that plastics do,” Dr Jahnke continues. “As these products deteriorate, the chemical reactions that occur lead to an elevated temperature, which can contribute to polymer breakdown. However, the same problem of potentially toxic chemical leakage persists, which can easily enter soil and make its way back into our food chain over time.”

Nature finds a way

Plastics and plastic pollution are among the top problems facing the planet and life as we know it today. As such, researchers around the world have been vehemently searching for a solution, which led to the development of bioplastics and biodegradable plastics.

Dr Jahnke says: “Often confused, bioplastics are based on naturally occurring components, either entirely or in part, whereas biodegradable plastics are any plastic that can be completely broken down naturally to accepted industry standards. Generally, all biodegradable plastics are bioplastics, and that is why naturally occurring microorganisms can consume them, unlike fossil-fuel derived plastics.

“Theoretically, developing biodegradable plastics means that it’s easy to solve the plastics problem. We simply need to move away from unsustainable plastics and adjust manufacturing processes to use naturally occurring, safely biodegradable polymers instead. Of course, this is not the pragmatic approach.”

The reason why plastic in its current form has proven so popular is its versatility. It can be soft, flexible and malleable where the application needs it, or it can be developed in a way that makes it highly durable and rigid. Biodegradable plastics have so far lacked this versatility, limiting the scope of their application.

“But now, we’re on the precipice of change in the industry,” Dr Jahnke says. “Following years of research, Teysha Technologies has achieved a landmark breakthrough in creating a viable substitute for existing petroleum-based polycarbonates.

“The breakthrough is more of a platform than a single polymer system, providing inherent versatility in the properties that can be achieved. It can be thought of as a plug-and-play system where various modified natural-product monomers and various co-monomers can be used. In addition to co-monomers, various additives can be used to modify the properties of the final polymer produced. This versatility allows for the formation of a variety of materials that can vary greatly in their thermal and mechanical properties.”

Because the platform facilitates the use of various components, everything from strength and toughness to thermal stability and even the degradation rate of the material can be controlled.

“This is the pragmatic solution for consumers, material scientists and design engineers alike,” Dr Jahnke states. “Not only does it accommodate for the existing lifestyle of the end user, but it also allows materials scientists to create something that serves as a desired, drop-in replacement for petroleum-based plastics.

“Traditional plastics might pose a problem for the planet, but tuneable plastics could offer a viable solution that lets us sustain life as we know it.”

Engineering Materials

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