One of the latest of these comes from China, where three scientists have led the engineering on new bioplastics that can be “tailored to needs.”
As reported by ScienceDaily.com, a team led by Jingjing Li and Yawei Liu (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Changchun, China), as well as Bo Wei (First Medical Center of PLA General Hospital) have achieved this first. Their research team has introduced a method for producing of protein-based plastics that are easily processable, biodegradable, and biocompatible, as well as having favorable mechanical properties.
“To do this they developed two lysine-rich proteins and produced them in bacterial cultures,” according to Science Daily. The steps involve “SRT” and “ELP,” the latter being a polypeptide similar to the connective tissue protein elastin. ELP does not have defined folding, which leads to toughness and elasticity. “SRT” consists of ELP plus crystalline segments of a squid protein with a β-sheet structure.
Said Science Daily: “Whether as packaging or toys, mulch films or cars [car components], plastics based on petrochemicals are ubiquitous—demand is rising, and so are the piles of garbage. Bioplastics based on natural materials like starch, or synthetic biomaterials like polylactic acid, have [hitherto] exhibited inadequate durability, biocompatibility, and/or biodegradability in most cases. In addition, they [have] often required complex, energy-intensive processing methods and toxic chemicals.”
The new direction “allows for the production of bioplastics with high mechanical strength at room temperature in any shape desired, and without toxic chemicals or complex processing steps such as liquefaction, extrusion, or blow molding. Their breaking stress exceeds those of many commercial plastics.”
Among the possibilities raised by this breakthrough is the conceivability of toys being producing using this new, nontoxic bioplastic that can be dyed with food coloring.
“This material may also be used to seal wounds, as it has hemostatic effects. Implants were completely broken down within a few weeks.”
Bioplastics are Gaining Market Share
As one source has noted, bioplastics still represent less than one percent of the more than 367 million tons of plastic produced annually. But in contrast to the production volume of conventional plastics, which has experienced a slight decrease, the production volume of bioplastics has grown continuously since their introduction.
The source, European Bioplastics, attributed the trend to a rising demand (for bioplastics in general) helped by the emergence of more sophisticated applications and products.