Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research is developing novel technologies for producing polylactic acid (PLA) based extruded foams. In the FOAMEX-project, Food & Biobased Research cooperates with three industrial parties: Synbra Technology (Etten-Leur), Nomacorc (Belgium) and Sulzer Chemtech (Swiss). The new process should lead to the economically viable and scalable production of foamed products based on PLA.

There are a very few examples of extrusion foaming of PLA on an industrial scale. For a commercial breakthrough, however, improvements are needed with respect to both the material (PLA) and to the extrusion foaming process itself (equipment, conditions). “The new process we develop must be reproducible, stable, economically viable and scalable”, says Gerald Schennink, project manager at Food & Biobased Research. “If we succeed, PLA-based foams can become real alternatives to foams made of petrol based plastics.”

Next step in PLA-based foams

Polylactic acid (PLA) is produced from renewable raw materials originating from crops such as corn and sugar cane. Some inherent properties of PLA have limited its use in several applications. Examples of less desirable properties are the brittle nature, limited maximum usage temperature, as well as the relatively high permeability of PLA to water and a number of gasses. In the past few years, Food & Biobased Research, industrial partners and other research institutes have succeeded in turning PLA into a valuable biobased alternative to traditional plastics. Within the FOAMEX project, the participants hope to take the production of PLA-based foams to a next level.