The huge quantity of pits discarded by the Mexican avocado food product industry is about to become one of the latest feedstocks for bioplastics. The Mexican company Biofase has developed a 100 percent biodegradable, compostable polymer made from avocado pits and is offering the polymer for use as either resins or additives.
We've discussed other bioplastics and biofuels that use agricultural-industrial waste as feedstocks. The latest one means companies making avocado products in Mexico will no longer need to pay third parties to haul away the pits. Scott Munguia, co-founder of Biofase, told FreshFruitPortal.com that the Mexican avocado industry discards 30,000 metric tons of pits each month.
Biofase has patented its new bioplastic material and the process it developed for converting the monomer in avocado pits. Munguia said his company is looking for other raw biomaterials with the same monomer.
The company is offering two different product lines: the Biocom biodegradable and compostable thermoplastic resins (which are made from renewable sources for the manufacture of plastic products) and biodegradable additives such as Bioblend, which can be blended with petroleum products such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and cellulose polymers to make them partially biodegradable. Biofase will formally enter the market this year and is projecting production rates of 30 metric tons a month.
Biofase is negotiating with Mexican fertilizer companies interested in using its resins in their plastic packaging, and it is talking to Mexican supermarkets about using the resins in plastic bags. The company is confining its material sources and sales to Mexico for the time being. According to Munguia, the bioplastic market in Mexico is growing at a rate of 20 percent per year.
Biofase is also considering whether to develop its own line of biodegradable, compostable food service items, including cutlery, bags, and cups.
We've thought about having ourselves produce the products directly but we'll need to capitalize on the company. For example, in Mexico, the regulations are more beneficial for bags than injectable products, so we want to see how these government regulation trends develop and if it grows and what would be best to invest in. We're going in but we want to wait for the market to show clearer trends.
The five founders of Biofase -- Munguia, Mauricio Valdes, Carolina Cavazos, Everardo Padilla, and Juan A. Osorio -- developed the technology as a student project at the Tecnologico de Monterrey Campus. In February 2012, the team won first prize in the northeast Mexico FRISA Award competition for Entrepreneurial Development. In July, Biofase was named one of the 20 most promising green companies in Mexico during the Cleantech Challenge Mexico 2012 event, where it received the Technological Innovation Award.
I second Dave's comments. Anytime we can take a waste product like this and convert it to a useful and economic product - we get one step closer to sustainable living. Our planet will thank us in the long run for efforts like these. Thanks for the article, Ann. It was a bright spot in my day.
Thanks for the article. It would be a great cycle to see the bio-plastic from avocado pits made into biodegradable take out containers! With such a high volume of raw material, the price may be reasonable.
I forget that many parts of the country still use Styrofoam until I leave the Bay Area.
Dave, glad you enjoyed the article. I adore avocados and would eat them everyday if they were in season locally in Northern California. That's one reason I was attracted to this story. Using Google Translate was a pain, but I'm good at figuring out bad translations into English, plus I absorbed a lot of Spanish when living in LA and hanging with my brother's in-laws from Mexico. I'm also familiar with Tec de Monterrey, so was not surprised that this innovation began there as a student project.
Ann, thanks for posting this. Also, thanks for linking to a Spanish-language website. It's an unfortunate fact that English speakers often ignore anything in other languages -- as though anything important must necessarily be in English.
Tec de Monterrey is very well known for integrating engineering and business, so it's perhaps not surprising that this company was founded by Tec students.
By the way, the cheerful "¡Aguacates de México!" jingle -- which is familiar to anyone who listens to Spanish-language radio in the U.S. -- is now stuck in my head after reading this article.
@TJ McDermott: Mexico produces about 1.3 million metric tons of avocados per year, so 30,000 metric tons per month of seeds (360,000 metric tons per year) being disposed of by industry seems reasonable.
Avocados are either sold whole (in which case the industry isn't responsible for disposing of the seeds), or else processed into other products (guacamole, avocado oil, etc.).
I'm going to guestimate that about 75% of the weight of an avocado is contained in the seed. That would mean that 1.3 million metric tons of avocados (i.e. the entire annual crop) yields 975,000 metric tons of seeds.
If industry has to dispose of 360,000 metric tons of seeds per year, that means that about 40% of the avocados are processed, and 60% are being sold as primary product (whole avocados). That makes sense to me.
1.3 million metric tons is about 4.3 billion avocados -- which sounds like a lot -- but if we assume that all Mexican avocados are consumed either in the U.S. or Mexico (combined population about 430 million), that's only 10 avocados per person per year (or 6, if you only don't count processed avocados).
Each member of my family eats at least one avocado per week, so we're definitely exceeding our quota.
TJ, the answer is kind of yes and no, depending on what part of the process you mean. It's the front end where things are really different, depending on what the feedstock is and whether it's starch-based or cellulose-based (or yet others). Once you've figured out how to convert it into ethanol you're home free. But that conversion is different for different feedstocks, depending on, among other things, the monomer, which is why Biofase wants to find other feedstock candidates with the same monomer so they can use their process on it. And the conversion can contain multiple steps--or not. There are lots of research efforts afoot to simplify that front-end process. If there's a holy grail, it might be there.
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