Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Use of petrochemicals, derived from fossil fuels for making packaging materials is well established and food and pharmaceutical industries need massive quantities of plastic films to create multilayer packaging materials with functional properties that protect the contents from oxygen, moisture and tainted flavors. Sustainable packaging materials have received world-wide attention because of the exhaustible nature of the sources of petroleum hydrocarbons besides their non-destructibility for hundreds of years posing environmental hazards. Against such a background the recent claims regarding development of an alternative to Ethyl Vinyl Alcohol (EVOH) derived from petrochemicals and used extensively as an oxygen barrier layer in laminates, from whey is a welcome news. Here is a take on this new exciting development. 

"The German Society for Packaging Market Research (Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung mbH) estimates that more than 640 square kilometres of composite materials employing EVOH as an oxygen barrier layer will be produced and used in Germany in 2014 - enough to completely cover Lake Constance. There is therefore a strong impetus to develop a sustainable packaging material which is both economical to produce and environmentally friendly. Researchers working on the EU's ''Wheylayer'' project have been using whey protein instead of petrochemical-based polymers. The natural ingredients in the whey extend the shelf life of food products, and the whey protein layer is biodegradable. The results of the research are promising. ''We've managed to develop a whey protein formulation that can be used as the raw material for a film barrier layer. And we have also developed an economically viable process which can be used to produce the multifunctional films on an industrial scale,'' says Markus Schmid from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising. But how is it even possible to make a barrier layer from whey? The researchers from the IVV began by purifying sweet whey and sour whey and producing high purity whey protein isolates. They tested a range of different modification methods in order to obtain suitable proteins with outstanding film-forming properties. To enable these proteins to withstand the mechanical loads involved, they were subsequently mixed with differing concentrations of various softeners and other additives, which were also biobased".

While developments like this are welcome, what is not kept in mind is about their impact on other industry. If whey is going to be sucked into the packaging industry, what happens to its present extensive use in food industry for a variety of applications?. Will this create a demand explosion leading to uncontrolled escalation of the price of whey and its derivatives? A situation similar to that exists in Ethanol industry where diversion of corn from food use to production of Gasohol did upset the food market with higher cost for corn denying millions of poor people access to this staple food in many African countries. If whey proteins become a packaging industry standard, the food processing industry is likely to feel the pressure in the long run, though it will give a boost to the fortunes of Dairy industry. Of course innovative development work is bound to come up with whey protein substitutes also eventually being obtained from plant sources.


1 comment:

Barrier Film said...

Layer of film used to permit removal of air and volatiles from a composite lay-up during cure while minimizing resin loss.