Mass production of biodegradable plastic aids digital tech

Posted Sep 1, 2017 by Tim Sandle
A new, fast and simple process has been devised for the manufacture of a plant-derived, biodegradable plastic. This material will be useful for next generation digital technology.
Fibers of a corn-derived  biodegradable plastic developed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Fibers of a corn-derived, biodegradable plastic developed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Craig Chandler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Digital technology is connected with making processes easier and allowing businesses to collect information more easily., fitting in with digital transformation initiatives. Many of those pioneering new technologies also wish to see the world change in other ways, and this includes basing new devices and technologies on more sustainable forms of production. This is why the introduction of a commercial process for a plant-derived, biodegradable plastic will appeal to many start-ups and technologists working in academia.
The new plastic comes from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Jiangnan University and it was found through iterative experimentation. The scientists found found that by raising the temperature of bio-plastic fibers to several hundred degrees Fahrenheit; and then slowly allowing the fibers to cool down, this seemingly simple step considerably improves the bio-plastic's normally lackluster resistance to heat and moisture. This makes the material suitable for wearable devices.
The new approach, relying on thermal processing is also 'green' in terms of its manufacturing process, for it means that solvents do not need to be used and with this the problem of disposing of noxious chemicals in the environment. The trials to date have involved the creation of a corn-derived plastic (where the fermentation of corn starch produces polylactic acid). This has been tested out on a commercial scale at the Cargill plant in Blair, Nebraska. The volumes of the plastic produced are considerable, and on a scale that at matches the production of petroleum-based plastic.
The new process has been published in the Chemical Engineering Journal, with the research paper titled "Complete stereo-complexation of enantiomeric polylactides for scalable continuous production."