New Organic Plastics © Robert Kneschke / fotolia.com

Thanks to biodegradable functional layers food packaging will in future protect goods from odours, water vapour and oxygen. © Fraunhofer ISC

New Organic Plastics: Revolutions on the Packaging Market?

Robust and lightweight, heat and cold-resistant

August 2015 – The result of the intense cooperation between packaging specialists “Alpla” from Austria and Dutch chemicals combine “Avantium” is already dubbed “the packaging material of the future”. Polymer polyethylene furan comes with many impressive properties: stable and thin-walled at the same time, lightweight, heat-resistant and processable at low temperatures, 100% bio-based and also 100% recyclable.

2013 saw “Alpla” start developing this environment-friendly material – back then still in cooperation with “Coca-Cola” and “Danone”. The breakthrough finally came care of novel process engineering from the Netherlands. The material innovation benefits both the environment and consumers. Due to the above average barrier properties this substance prolongs the shelf life of packaged foods many times over and is neutral to the taste. So far bio-based packaging materials for food and beverages have often failed due to their low barrier characteristics for water vapour, oxygen or aromas. As a result the content perished in no time or took on the taste of other foodstuffs.

Modern bio-based plastics in research

Alongside PEF there are other equally ecological and efficient packaging solutions in the pipeline. The Würzburg-based Fraunhofer-Institut für Silicatforschung has succeeded in producing a biodegradable coating material called bioORMOCER®e as part of the European project “DibbioPack” (short for Development of Injection and Blow extrusion molded BIOdegradable and multifunctional PACKages by nanotechnology). The novel functional layers are based on bio polymers, tear-resistant and increasingly antimicrobial. They are suitable for both rigid containers and flexible films. Applied like a varnish the material blocks off any chemical substances from the outside and keeps aromas and other important substances from escaping. The initial test phase was successfully completed but until March 2016 there will be further tests conducted as to the material’s compliance with international regulations and its fitness for everyday use.

Another coating with high barrier properties called “Tetra Rex®” results from a Swedish-Brazilian cooperation. With support from the Brazilian chemicals group Braskem researchers at packaging manufacturer Tetra Pak have found a way to produce ethanol from sugar cane and to convert it into polyethylene. Both the closure and the coating of the carton consist of this innovative material, which makes sure that foodstuffs do not get into touch with moisture, oxygen or light. The unprocessed cardboard is made almost 100% of FSC-certified wood. However, the German market will still have to wait for this innovation: first costs must be cut and the supply chain simplified.

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