Development of a starch based thermoplastic Biopolymer as substitution of standard polymers in niche applications
Bio-degradable polymers (BAW) made from renewable raw materials are attracting ever increasing research interest from large corporations. Bio-degradable polymers are applicable where standard plastic polymers cannot be used in a resource efficient way. The main advantage of this polymer group lies, on one hand, in the sustainability of renewable raw materials and on the other hand in the `zero waste` principle resulting from their bio-degradability. The number of publications concerning the development and potential of such materials is growing continually, However, the current extent of usage is in no way proportional to the level of development. In the leading countries (Italy, Finland, Sweden and Germany), bio-degradable polymers have already been applied in the packaging of supermarket products. In Austria, these materials, which are based on starch, have not yet reached mass production. The cause of this is to be found in low level of competitiveness of currently available materials. Native starch polymers are currently vastly inferior to their standard counterparts in terms of their mechanical properties. Polymer mixes using bio-polyester blends are currently not financially viable.
Therefore, the goal of the technology and component development is the production of a commercially viable biopolymer material from Austrian raw materials. The project partnership is very carefully assembled and consists of companies which represent all stages of the product development process. (raw material producers - pre-treatment companies - processors).
The project promoter is a research and development centre for plastics and environment specialising in the core competence of plastic polymer development. Relevant possibilities for making improvements to existing materials were revealed in pre-trials conducted within the framework of the project ‘Factory of the future: Renewable bio-polymers as substitute for mass produced plastics' . This know-how should now be implemented in the USA in an existing moulding compound. The formula is in the possession of one of the project partners and is currently being piloted with a small production run. Therefore, the first step of the project is the substitution of the main starch component with an Austrian raw material. With the know-how of the research and development centre, reinforcement materials and other additives are added to the formula in order to achieve the required material characteristics. The pre-treatment company delivers the compounded polymer to the 3 processors involved in the project. An important intention is the direct implementation into products within the duration of the project. Each producer has come forward with concrete product ideas. As soon as a formula is achieved which meets all the requirements, a swift commercial uptake can be assumed.
The applications of the material are chosen in such a way that the use of bio-degradable polymers brings an added value to the product. The experience of companies confirms that there are many niche markets in which this added value, tied to relevant marketing arguments, can justify a higher price. The first product ideas are screw plugs for the furniture industry, firework tubes, clamps for saline drip tubes, golf tees and business cards. Each and every one of these products should serve as a guiding light for further developments.
The project duration is set at 18 months. If the goals set within the project are attained, there is every likelihood of further development on a broader level. An important cornerstone for a successful formula is the certification of the bio-degradability according to DIN 54900. The consortium is aware that only by making the material clearly identifiable to the consumer will it be possible for it to find it's way to compost by way of the bio-degradable waste bin. If the expansion of the use of bio degradable polymers takes place in the foreseeable future, a corresponding expansion in the compost production industry will be required.
The expected results of this project represent a genuine opportunity for the wider commercial exploitation of biopolymers in sustainable technological applications.
LKT - Laboratorium für Kunststofftehcnik GmbH
Dipl.-Ing. Harald Wilhelm
Tel.: +43 1 33 126 - 488
Fax: +43 1 33 22 106 -31
Project or cooperation partner
- Lenzing Plastics GmbH & Co KG
Dipl.-Ing. Andreas Reifensteiner
Lenzing Plastics GmbH & Co KG
- Wind Thermoplasthandel GmbH
Herr Christian WIND
- Zuckerforschung Tulln GmbH
Dr. Marnik Wastyn
A- 3430 Tulln
- IFG Industriemontagen & Finanzdienstleistungen GmbH
Ing. Günther Kölbl
- Digicard GmbH
Frank und Michael Dorner