Food packaging trays made of starch-based biodegradable plastic (photo from Plantic Technologies).
Bioplastics, or “green polymers”, are derived from renewable biomass sources, such as starch, protein or polylactic acid, blended with natural fillers.
31 August 2012 | Updated 26 October 2012
Bioplastics are produced using low carbon footprint processes, and are not derived from fossil fuel feedstocks. They can be extruded, formed, blown and spun using the same manufacturing technologies as conventional plastics.
CSIRO develops manufacturing processes for bioplastics which outperform conventional petrochemical-derived plastics.
CSIRO’s Future Manufacturing Flagship develops manufacturing processes for bioplastics which outperform conventional petrochemical-derived plastics.
High performance bio-derived and biodegradable composites
Composite materials are created by adding inorganic fillers or fibrous reinforcements to plastics to improve strength or material properties or reduce cost. Composite plastics have a variety of applications in the automotive, aerospace and construction industries.
One of the most versatile biopolymers is polylactic acid (PLA), which can be blended with starches to improve its toughness, stiffness and thickness. Plant fibres added to PLA improve strength and flexibility.
PLA is used in a wide variety of applications, from packaging to biodegradable medical implants.
Case study: biodegradable pallets - BioFiba Limited
Working with Biofiba Limited and Telford Smith Engineering CSIRO have developed a revolutionary natural material, BioFiba88, an extrudable simulated timber which combines a renewable polymeric binder with cellulose fibre-based reinforcing elements.
The material can be extruded and sawn into planks to make biodegradable pallets. It provides a sustainable alternative to timber for use in shipping pallets. Pallets made from Biofiba composites break down easily into earth-friendly, natural matter.
BioFiba Biopallets are targeted at the US$90 billion global export pallet market.
In 2010, BioFiba set up a Biopallet manufacturing plant in China, in association with a Chinese partner, producing product for the Chinese pallet market.
Case study: ECO-friendly packaging – Plantic Technologies Pty Ltd
Plantic is an Australian company, set up in 2001 to commercialise bio-derived and biodegradable starch-based packaging materials developed by CSIRO through the Food and Packaging Cooperative Research Centre.
The company produces specialised bio-based barrier materials for packaging refrigerated fresh foods such as meats, fish and pasta, as well as totally biodegradable plastic feedstock (derived from corn starch) used in packaging, medical, automotive and aerospace applications. Plantic customers include Nestlé, Lindt and Cadbury Schweppes.
Plantic plastic products are estimated to require 50 per cent less energy for manufacture, and have lower GHG emission impact (40-70 per cent lower) than conventional plastics.
Plantic Pty Ltd was valued at £15 million when it was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2007. Since that time, the company has passed into private ownership.
Nanocomposites have extremely small particles (of less than 100 nanometres) dispersed within the material.
The particles can change material function, improving mechanical performance, fire resistance, or barrier properties against water or air, or shielding sensitive electrical components from electromagnetic radiation or to dissipate electrical charge.
Nano-modifed coatings can also protect against heat and light.
CSIRO has coated clear plastic bottles with a nanocomposite that protects against a range of UV light or other wavelengths to prevent ‘light strike' affecting the flavour of the liquids inside.
Learn more about CSIRO's work at Lightweight composites to get trimmer and smarter.