Scientists at Australia’s Deakin University are turning by-products of wood and wool into biodegradable packaging that they believe could slash plastic consumption.
Dr Nishar Hameed from the university’s Institute for Frontier Materials says this new natural polymer could cut the more than 100 million tonnes of plastics used annually around the world.
He said: “We’re using cellulose from wood pulp as well as wool, silk, and nano-composites from bone material to produce biodegradable materials for potential application in packaging and clothing.
“Natural polymers are a renewable resource compared to synthetic plastics which are derived from finite fossil fuel reserves. They are also often biodegradable, aiding disposal.”
The process takes wood pulp cellulose, wool and silk fibres and dissolves them in liquefied salt to form solid materials such as films and fibres.
A 10:1 ratio of organic material is dissolved at 100 degrees C. The dissolved polymers are regenerated into films, composites and fibres by coagulating in a water bath.
De Hameed added: “The key to producing useful biodegradable, multi-component materials is environmentally friendly processing from completely renewable sources. Other solvents are shown to be more toxic and can’t be recycled…
“…Cellulose based blends and composites could also have potential application in the biomedical, electronics, automotive, aerospace and photonics sectors and spawn a self-sustaining, green polymer industry.”