Development of a compostable soy-based bioplastic

By Yves Therrien, special collaboration

(Editor’s note: translation from the VOF)

Alliance Polymère Québec (APQ) remains a partner of choice for the development of promising projects. The development of a compostable soy-based biocomposite (bioplastic) for injection moulding is an eloquent example. In addition to acting as the architect of this innovative project, in collaboration with industry partners, the APQ has taken the necessary steps to obtain grants that could reach $500,000 for the realization of this project. Launched at the end of 2019, this development project could result in the commercialization of a compostable soy-based biocomposite in 18 to 24 months.

Traditional fossil-based plastics are often designed for single use. In addition, they are often considered unacceptable by new generations because of their manufacturing process as well as their environmental, social and economic impacts. Millennials were already considered “eco-warriors”.

Their sensitivity to environmental issues has prompted many companies to go green. With Generation Z jumping on the green bandwagon and fighting climate change, young consumers are shaping an environmental movement that goes far beyond keywords and translates into concrete actions. Under pressure from the #StopSucking movement, several major international companies have stopped using plastic straws. With the Greta Thunbergs of this world, the pressure will continue to build in the years to come and push companies to improve their environmental performance.
Plant-based plastics are not new materials. 135 years ago, the first plastic billiard balls and piano keys were made from cellulose nitrate derived from woody material. Cellulose acetate or rayon was also used to make clothing in the 1930s. In the years following the emergence of these early bioplastics, the industry turned to traditional petrochemical-based plastics because of their versatility, strength, durability and light weight.

In order to mitigate or eliminate some of the environmental and socio-economic impacts associated with the use of traditional plastics, bioplastics have been the subject of renewed interest over the past two decades. Today, biodegradable bioplastics are an advantageous alternative when properly blended with plant-based plasticizers such as soybean oil. With proper blending, their properties can be improved and their cost greatly reduced, while maintaining their biodegradability. According to European Bioplastics, global bioplastics production capacity has increased annually by 7.5% since 2015. Initially, expectations for bioplastics were largely overblown, but several factors could drive their growth in the coming years, including increasing social pressure, combined with more competitive costs and performance and properties that approach those of traditional plastics.

Given the life cycle of compostable products, it is preferable for the time being to use them in a controlled and closed environment, such as in a restaurant or cafeteria. For example, compostable utensils, glasses and dishes can be collected and composted. In recent years, the University of Sherbrooke has completely abandoned the use of disposable dishes, a fact that shows the power of influence of young people in institutions and the rapid change in mentalities.

The APQ and its partners continue to work on the development of a compostable soy-based biocomposite, while laboratory tests are being conducted by experts. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the project, but the pace of development has been accelerating for some time. In Quebec, it will be necessary to see how production can be increased with a view to possible commercialization in 2022 or 2023. The partners involved will benefit from an important competitive advantage in a market that is expected to grow rapidly. The process or trade secret of the soy-based compostable biocomposite could eventually be licensed.

Whatever your vision, APQ is a partner of choice to help you realize your project.

Editor’s note: In the text, we have replaced the use of the term bioplastic by the term biocomposite, which we consider more appropriate to the reality, since it is a “material made up of several distinct components (fibers and binders) whose combination gives the whole particular properties”. This definition is taken from the Antidote dictionary.

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