Wageningen Food & Biobased Research uses a wide range of commercially available raw materials in the development of new, sustainable packaging such as plastic, cardboard, wood, glass and tin. In addition, we develop improved or brand-new sustainable packaging materials.
Sustainable raw materials that can be extracted from natural, renewable resources (such as trees and plants) are the basis of biobased packaging materials that we work on. We also use residual streams from e.g. the food industry, and recycled materials.
Sustainable plastics for packaging materials
Plastics are produced using fossil raw materials, and especially petroleum. These plastics can also be produced with plant-based raw materials such as maize stalks or sugar beets. These materials are converted into building blocks for bioplastics via (bio)refinery processes. Virtually all current, petroleum-based plastics can be made biobased.
Food & Biobased Research Research is focused on the development of biobased plastics that – taking the properties required for packaging into account – have the same or even better properties compared to their petroleum-based equivalents. Moreover, we aim to design biorefinery and production in such a way that it uses the same or a smaller amount of raw materials and energy than a similar petroleum variety
PEF, PLA, PBS and PHA
To develop bioplastics we use our expertise in the field of polymer chemistry and biotechnology. This includes our knowledge of the (bio)chemical routes that can be used to synthesise plastic components and make various unique biobased plastics such as polyethylene furanoate (PEF), polylactic acid (PLA), polybutylene succinate (PBS) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). These bioplastics all have different properties compared to their fossil alternatives and sometimes perform even better than traditional packaging plastics, for example in terms of durability or heat resistance.
From plastic to packaging
A polymer is not yet packaging material. Product development based on bioplastics involves choosing the best polymer option for a specific application and using this as a basis for developing the packaging with suitable additives and fillers and the right production process (injection moulding, film blowing or thermo forming). Although the datasheets that are usually supplied by polymer producers provide good indications for the selection of process parameters, many packaging companies require additional knowledge before they can optimally process these new materials. How does the new material ‘behave’ in the process? Which process parameters require extra attention to properly process the polymers? We provide support in answering these types of questions.
Made by nature
In addition to bioplastics we work on more direct applications of plant-based raw materials, including waste streams from agriculture. This often involves naturally produced raw materials such as starch, hemp and straw. Among other things, we use these streams for the development of process chemicals and raw materials for paper and cardboard products. Not only do we study the possible application of these raw materials for packaging, we also look into the opportunities for optimising existing processes, based on our extensive experience in pulping raw materials and testing products for their applicability for the paper industry. The combination of experience and testing facilities ensure that we make the right connection between raw material, process and end product.
An example of a pilot project in which this was successfully realised is our project with tomato breeders. They supplied fresh tomato leaves, while we realised a process in which the leaves were ground and then pressed into a biobased pulp container. In this way, the tomatoes were packaged in their own leaves.