As a reminder, bioplastics are defined as either biodegradable, or containing bio-based content, or both. They're all produced as an alternative to petro-based plastics, to decrease carbon footprint and form a sustainable alternative. For example, Cereplast's algae-based bioplastics are divided into two different lines: the Sustainables resins combine a high bio-based content with the durability and endurance of traditional plastic. They're aimed at automotive, consumer electronics, and packaging applications. But the company's Compostables resins target single-use applications, such as food service-related products.
It's also important to remember that purposeful, managed composting and biodegrading -- in landfills or anywhere else -- are two different things and result in a big difference in the amount of carbon dioxide that's released. When not managed, it can take many years for a biodegradable material to finish biodegrading, during which time it releases considerable amounts of carbon dioxide and may also leave undesirable residues in the soil. In contrast, correctly managed composting happens a lot faster, captures more carbon dioxide, and leaves little or (preferably) no residues. BASF has a helpful FAQ on the subject.
BASF says it introduced these grades because of the growing interest in certified compostable plastics among packaging makers. According to a new study by market research firm IHS Chemical, both legislative efforts and consumer pressure are combining to increase demand for biodegradable plastics. The report predicts that demand will increase by almost 15 percent per year between 2012 and 2017 in Europe, North America, and Asia. Europe remains the largest regional consumer of biodegradable plastics, and is responsible for more than half of the total amount worldwide by weight. Although food serviceware and food packaging remain the highest-volume application category, medical uses for biodegradable plastics are increasing.
Thanks for such a comprehensive, informative article on bioplastics, Ann, and for staying on top of this fascinating and important space. I never knew what the differences were and it seems like there is quite a range. That said, I really like the direction BASF is heading with this compostabe and biodegradeable version of Ecovio. To think that all the plastic being used for food packaging could one day be bioplastic like this that can be reused and composted in an agricultural venue is promising, especially in a world where synthetic plastic has ruled for so many years and done such damage to the environment.
You're welcome, Elizabeth. Since there had been a lot of comments recently that indicated some readers were confused about the nature of bioplastics, I took the opportunity to clarify a few points again. BASF is a pioneer and leader in bioplastics, especially Ecovio compostable versions, and I( think they deserve kudos for this leadership, the R&D, and the productization/commercialization.
I'll definitely have to keep an eye on news from BASF. I think it's really great when a company takes such initiative to do something not only good for industry, but also for the environment. Responsible business practices are the future.
When researching the company last year, I discovered its commitment to sustainability goes back several years. I was also surprised that even my husband (in a very different field from this one) had heard of the company and its leadership in this area. Here's a link that will help: http://www.basf.com/group/corporate/en/content/sustainability/index
Thanks for the link, Ann. I will definitely take a look. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as companies purely devoted to sustainability and environmental friendliness are popping up all the time know. But sounds like BASF was at the forefront.
Elizabeth, DuPont is another company that's been in the forefront of sustainability efforts, not just making sustainable plastics. I suggest you check out their website, too. http://www2.dupont.com/inclusive-innovations/en-us/gss/sustainability.html
Thanks for the info, Ann. I didn't know that about DuPont. I think for some reason I had a bit of a negative view of that company in my head, growing up so close to Delaware (near Philadelphia) where the company had such an ominous industrial presence. i always thought they were just another socially irresponsible chemical company. Good to know I'm wrong!
Elizabeth, I was also surprised, and pleased, to discover that most chemical companies have been addressing sustainability issues for several years now. Pressure from consumers had a lot to do with this.
Another fact I didn't know, Ann, but it makes sense. As consumers become more environmentally aware, it is just a no brainer that they want the companies providing the materials for a lot of products to do the same. Let's hope this starts to have a real positive impact.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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