Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Bioplastic packing material-Poly butylene succinate for food packing

For any food to be preserved after it is processed needs a packaging material to keep out vectors, air, water and external flavor taints. The world has been used to the fossil fuel based packaging materials since long which offer a wide variety of them with different functional properties and no one thinks seriously what will happen once fossil fuels run out as they are non-renewable in nature. Not that world is not concerned about this because there are attempts here and there to develop new packaging materials based on renewable sources though their production is not very substantial yet compared to conventional plastics now in vogue. A major demand from the consumer and policy makers is that such plastics should be biodegradable as current plastics some time take as much as 800 years to degrade in soil after disposal. While biodegradable plastics are now being produced they need not necessarily be natural plant based and also all bioplastics are not necessarily biodegradable. The new breed of bioplastics now being touted around comes through fermentation route deploying microorganisms. Here is some information regarding the recently developed bioplastic from succinate generated by fermentation of organic carbon sources from plants.

"The research consortium has developed a way to mass produce succinic acid, one of the major ingredients of PBS. To do so, they use bacteria to convert the glucose in the "feedstock", or the raw material used to produce such bioplastics, such as wheat. "The idea is to replace the succinic acid coming from petrochemicals with bio-resourced products such as plant waste and materials from plants in agriculture," says Christophe Cotillon, project coordinator and deputy manager of the French Association for the Technical Coordination of the Agrifood Industry (ACTIA), headquartered in Paris, France. PBS has "similar qualities as existing packaging, for the interaction between the food and the packaging and in terms of texture and transparency," Cotillon tells  In tests, bio-resourced PBS was a better oxygen barrier than other bioplastics. Water barrier properties, however, need more tweaking to compete with existing packaging at keeping out water which can spoil dried food and promote microbial growth and contamination. The packaging has already been successfully tested for ricotta cheese and for beef. This product presents quite a few additional advantages. Bioresourced PBS can be used in existing production lines, meaning no financial penalties for manufacturers switching to greener materials. "Industry gets the same properties for approximately the same cost, and using the same machines," says Cotillon. Bio-resourced packaging also boosts brands' eco credentials. "If you tell the consumer that they are using bio-resourced packaging, they will prefer the idea to preserve nature." The manufacturing process could be made even greener by using energy from renewable resources, or by optimising the manufacturing process. To compete against petrochemical-based plastics, bioplastics need to meet several requirements. "If we want to push this material, we have to have better properties at the same costs," says Cotillon, "A future development step will be to improve the quality by coating the surface. And we can mix the molecules with other bio-resourced molecules to make a better quality of packaging." Bioplastics, however, could raise public concern in that it could be grown on land that would otherwise be used for food crops, and reduce food availability. "Certainly food competition is a problem," says Markus Schmidt, research associate in the Department of Materials Development, Fraunhofer Institute, in Freising, Germany. "In my opinion it would be best to use real waste products or by products from food manufacturing so there is no food competition." A statement that meets Cotillon's opinion "the biosources for PBS packaging can come from plant waste." Consumers could also struggle to distinguish between biodegradable and bio-resourced. "The feedstock used [to produce bioplastics] has nothing to do with whether a material is biodegradable or not," says Kristy-Barbara Lange, head of communication at the industrial organisation European Bioplastics, "this is a misunderstanding often encountered. Biodegradability depends on the chemical structure of a material." The biodegradability of SUCCIPACK, explains Cotillon is "the same as petrochemical or current packaging."

The technology development cannot automatically lead to acceptance by the user industry, especially food processing industry for which there are strict functional and safety requirements. According to available information provided on this new plastic material, succinate based bioplastics are compatible with products like cheese and frozen meat but cannot fare well when it comes to packing moisture sensitive foods. Probably further modifications may be required to improve moisture impermeability by modifying the surface through secondary coatings and this should be technically feasible with the available knowledge in coating technology. Also relevant is the costing and unless succinate based bioplastics can compete with fossil fuel based materials currently available, it may face a rough time in the market. A big controversy that may follow such fermentation driven plastic materials is the desirability of using edible plant foods for non-food purpose, as such a "pull" might affect the food supply chain adversely. The contention that food wastes can be a feed source may work out if provend true.


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