Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bioplastics.

I haven't heard much in the ongoing climate change brawls about plastic, a pervasive material that we make, primarily, out of petrochemicals. Then today, lo and behold, I find this:
Carbon dioxide. Orange peels. Chicken feathers. Olive oil. Potato peels. E. coli bacteria. It is as if chemists have gone Dumpster diving in their hunt to make biodegradable, sustainable and renewable plastics. Most bioplastics are made from plants like corn, soy, sugar cane and switch grass, but scientists have recently turned to trash in an effort to make so-called green polymers, essentially plastics from garbage.


Cool.

5 comments:

undergroundman said...

Yeah. I sunk some money into Cereplast (OTCBB:CERP). Then I woke up and realized that I was investing in a company with 4.5 million in assets but a 110 million market cap - and no earnings yet. :p

Still, I think it could double if it finally pulls a profit this next quarter - regardless of the fact that it's probably not a good investment, with so much competition and such a weak margin.

The other public bioplastic company, Metabolix (NASDAQ:MTBLX) is going to genetically engineer corn to grow plastic as well as using E.Coli, as the article cites.

The Novomer company is interesting. One of the problems that CERP faces is that permeability one - it can't be used very effectively as a beverage container. I've read that CERP was working with nano researchers in Spain to work on that. I know that there is a water bottle made with bioplastics out there, and I'm not sure who made their plastic. If they were marketing themselves right they would be everywhere - bottled water made out of bioplastic is a pretty strong draw for a lot of people.

undergroundman said...

Name of the water is Biota.

ADHR said...

What I found surprising was how old this technology was. Henry Ford, of all people, thought bioplastics were a good idea. The idea of making them out of garbage is also quite appealing. It solves one of the objections to, say, ethanol production, in that it consumes land that would otherwise be used for growing foodcrops (and, if ethanol is made out of corn rather than, say, sugarcane, it inteferes with the market for one of the principal foodstuffs in Latin America). Although, I've often wondered why the needed crops couldn't be grown hydroponically... or why you couldn't make these things out of cranberries, which don't grow on land but in water....

Anyway. The permeability problem is, I'd think, going to make or break this technology. For short-term uses (say, plastic wrap) it doesn't have to last long, but if your TV or water bottle or storage totes started to fall apart, I think there'd be a problem! (And, if this is used to make a polyester substitute, would clothes biodegrade after being washed too often? That was my wife's worry when I brought this up yesterday.)

The Biota website actually has an interesting video which illustrates the above issue nicely. After about 80 days the bottle is completely gone, which is good -- but after about 21 days, it's not capable of holding any liquid any more, which is bad. Although, the FAQ on the bottle has some interesting claims:

In order for a BIOTA bottle to degrade it must be opened, emptied and placed under the right conditions. ...

It takes prolonged and CONSTANT exposure to high heat (120-140 °F) plus high humidity AND micro-organisms in order to begin decomposing.

Psychols said...

You have been tagged with the Thinking Blogger Award meme. This is one of the five blogs that most makes me think.

undergroundman said...

By the way, my Google Alerts sent me this article from Modern Plastics: http://modplas.com/inc/mparticle.php?section=cvrStory&thefilename=cvrStory06012007_01


Anyway. The permeability problem is, I'd think, going to make or break this technology. For short-term uses (say, plastic wrap) it doesn't have to last long, but if your TV or water bottle or storage totes started to fall apart, I think there'd be a problem! (And, if this is used to make a polyester substitute, would clothes biodegrade after being washed too often? That was my wife's worry when I brought this up yesterday.)


It'll certainly still be useful for disposable food packaging, which is what it's mainly used for now. I'm not sure permeability and biodegrability are the same thing. Most of these plastics only really biodegrade under controlled conditions in a real composter. It requires a sustained combination of the right bacteria and heat. But I think if they're left in water for a long time they do biodegrade.

Cereplast is based on PLA, and "PLA ...has a density of 1.26 g/cc, tensile strength of 9860 psi, tensile elongation at yield of 4%, flexural modulus of 537,000, and flexural strength of 14,200 psi, according to IDES. For films, the material has water-vapor transmission of 10 g/100 in2/day, and haze of 93% at a thickness of 0.984 mil."

I have no idea what 10/g100 in 2/day means, heh.

By the way, here's another interesting article on plastic recycling: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/mg19426035.900-recycled-plastic-to-get-clean-bill-of-health.html

I'm keeping an eye on that company as well (OTCBB:ECOO). If this company really does have the revolutionary technology that they claim to have (licensed from Honeywell), it's somewhat sad that they have to slog through as a penny stock with zero federal support.