APR 11, 2019 6:00 AM PDT

This Bioplastic and Rubber Blend is Biodegradable, Flexible, and Tough

Natural rubber-bioplastic blend showed better stability against degradation (Ohio State U)

If the over-reliance on petroleum for plastics production is not already a problem, the plastics pollution crisis is and will remain the most concerning environmental issue for citizens across the globe for many years to come.
 
To address both issues, researchers are working against the clock to come up with alternatives that is neither fossil fuel-based nor harmful to the environment. A recently published study reported a new alternative to plastics which combines the sturdiness of natural rubber and the eco-friendliness of a bioplastic known as PHBV, according to the authors from the Ohio State University.

Poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate) or PHBV, the copolymer of two short-chain organic acids, is a bioproduct generated by genetically engineered E. Coli. Considered as a promising alternative to conventional plastics, it is both biocompatible and biodegradable.

PHBV has been made in medical implants and release-controlled capsules because it is not toxic and undergoes slow degradation in aqueous environments. Once disposed of in the landfills or even natural environments, PHBV gets chewed by microbes and turned into carbon dioxide and water as quickly as 6 weeks. But one of its main drawbacks is that it is easy to break and cannot stand strong physical impact, which limits its wide industrial applications.

TEM image of a bacteria cell that has PHBV polymer "bubbles" (UNT Digital Library)

Related reading: the pros and cons of bioplastics

Natural rubber (NR), polymers of isoprene, is harvested in the form of latex from rubber trees. It is stretchable and highly resilient to physical stress, and yet susceptible to bacterial degradation. NR is commonly added during the productions of many polymer-based products, as a toughening agent. But the Ohio State team went to a couple of steps further.

The team of material chemists added an acrylic coagent (to perform cross-linking between PHBV and NR) and an organic peroxide (to catalyze the polymerization) in their process, which allow PHBV to be firmly grafted onto the rubber backbones. The two additives also decreased PHBV crystallinity and crystal size, making the final PHBV-NR blend much less brittle.

With 75% tougher and 100% more flexible than PHBV alone, the bioplastic and natural rubber mix holds great promise to replace the current food packaging material, which constitutes the largest source of single-use plastics at the moment.

“Previous attempts at this combination were unsuccessful because the softness of the rubber meant the product lost a lot of strength in the process,” commented Xiaoying Zhao, the lead author and a postdoctoral researcher on Food Science and Technology, in a press release. Their newest introduction, however, would make a difference.

Besides food packaging-related applications, the team hopes that the PHBV-NR can also find its way to many other areas such as cutleries and kitchenware, medical implants, construction material, as well as automobile and aeronautics manufacturing.

Bioplastic Fantastic: Why we don't need oil for plastics | Kathryn Sheridan | (TEDxGhent)

Source: ZME Science

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
You May Also Like
OCT 22, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 22, 2019
Here's What We Know So Far About Titan's Liquid Methane Oceans
Titan is perhaps one of the most captivating moons orbiting Saturn today; so much so that astronomers spent a lot of time studying it when the Cassini miss...
NOV 07, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
NOV 07, 2019
Electrifying Breakthrough: New Tech Adds 200 Miles to EVs with only 10-Min Charging
One of the most noticeable drawbacks of electric vehicles (EVs) is their long charging time. That's why the U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal to...
DEC 15, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 15, 2019
MAVEN Mission Connects Mars' Wind Patterns to Surface Features
NASA’s MAVEN mission, launched on November 18th, 2013, has been orbiting Mars and investigating the planet’s features for more than half a deca...
DEC 22, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 22, 2019
How Astronomers Measure Distances to Stars
Extra stellar systems are so far away from our own that we couldn’t even hope of developing a tape measure long enough to determine how far away they...
JAN 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 05, 2020
Is Betelgeuse on the Verge of Going Supernova?
There’s been a lot of discussion happening as of late with respect to the Orion constellation’s red supergiant star Betelgeuse. Being one of th...
JAN 06, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
JAN 06, 2020
Physics in Peril? (Part III) - A Problem at A Cosmic Scale
It is safe to say that astrophysicist Edwin Hubble redefined the universe as we knew back in the early 20th century.  Not only did he found irrefutabl...
Loading Comments...