Polylactic acid (PLA) is a commercially available biobased polymer that is biodegradable and has excellent mechanical characteristics. By using intelligent, innovative polymerisation techniques it is possible to change the characteristics of or develop new applications for PLA, for example in biobased plastics.
Polylactic acid is obtained by fermenting sugars (for example from sugar cane, corn starch) or seaweed into lactic acid. After purification or separation, this lactic acid can be polymerised via various methods. By using innovative techniques such as copolymerisation we can obtain new characteristics. After polymerisation, the polylactic acid can be used to develop various biobased materials such as biobased plastics and thermoplastic composites.
Combination of knowledge and expertise
Innovative materials based on polylactic acid are developed using variation in the polymer architecture (branched, star-shaped or linear) or by introducing various reactive groups.
A unique aspect of the work performed by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is the combination of our knowledge of renewable, vegetable raw materials that can serve as the basis for fermentation into lactic acid with our expertise in the field of innovative polymerisation. Research and process development are realised for clients from the polymer industry as well as within various European research programmes such as the Biobased Performance Materials (BPM) programme and the BE-Basic programme.
Making materials suitable for polymerisation
In combining materials like cellulose, starch and many other biobased materials with polymers in order to achieve a variety of end products, compatibility between the material and polymers is of the essence. Thanks to our knowledge and research facilities we can ‘decode’ various materials with polylactic acid and thus improve the compatibility between the material and polymers. Because we can apply this technique universally it is possible to make nearly every combinable material suitable for polymerisation. This allows us to make new combinations of materials that can be processed in standard equipment such as extruders and injection mould machines.