Plastics are an important part of our life. The use of these materials occurs in almost all areas of our daily life, from packaging for food, medical and communication technology to technical applications e.g. in automobiles. Also the important guiding themes of the future like lightweight design or electric mobility are not imaginable without plastics. By far the major part of these plastics is based on fossil resources. The project BiNa is investigating an approach to realise the substitution of fossil ressources in the plastic area within the framework of an required resource change. The path away from fossil resources is with regard to climate and resource aspects important but has to be taken with care.
What are bioplastics?
First of all: Bioplastics are not a completely new, but a (rediscovered) material class within the manifold group of plastics. The first polymeric materials synthesised by human hand have been alll based on modified natural materials (e.g. shellac, celluloid, cellophane, linoleum or natural rubber), i.e. they have been bio-based, this is due to the fact that in the past no petrochemical materials had been available. Beside a view exceptions (cellulose based and natural rubber based materials) the originally bio-based plastics were almost completely replaced by petrochemical materials since the mid-twentieth century. The bioplastics of this kind which are still available at the market is referred to as "Old Economy Bioplastics". Bioplastics are currently experiencing a renaissance. The main reasons are ecological aspects with regard to the limitation of petrochemical resources as well as new material characteristics combined with an increasing perception in public, politics, industry and especially research and development.
There is a lot of confusion about the terms "biopolymer", "bioplastic", "biodegradable plastic", "plastic from renewable resources", etc., due to the fact that a clear disambiguation or standarddoes not exist yet. Within the term bioplastics exist following polymer groups, also compare figure "Definition of bioplastics":
- Degradable petro-based polymers
- Degradable (mainly) bio-based polymers
- Non-degradable bio-based polymers
Definition of bioplastics (Source: H.-J. Endres, A. Siebert-Raths, Technische Biopolymere, Carl Hanser-Verlag, 2015)
This means, that bioplastics - current understanding - are not necessarily based on renewable raw materials. In contrary are not all plastics which are based on renewable rar materials also automatically bio-degradable. In addition to that are the resources which are used for the production of bioplastics in the rarest cases cultivated according to biodynamic guidelines (Organic Farming).
Furthermore an important aspect is the distinction bewteen a polymer which is a macromolecular basic material and a ready for use plastic which has been refined by the addition of different additives and auxiliary materials for the processing and use. The term biopolymer is also used for natural polymers like cellulose which causes additional confusion.
Based on the chemical structure bioplastics are also distingushed in novel and drop-in materials (independent from the fact if these are degradable or not), which are together named as "New Economy Bioplastics". While the bio-based drop-ins like bio-polyethylene (Bio-PE) or bio-polyethyleneterephthalate (Bio-PET) have the same structure like their conventional pendants and can be used in the same manner, have novel materials like polylactide acid (PLA) or Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) a unique characteristical property profile.
Discussion about bioplastics
At the moment is the discussion about bioplastics often more emotionally shaped rather than scientific based, which caused a controversial public debate for the meaningfullness of using bioplastics. This seems to be based on lacking information from science as well as an insufficient communication policy in combination with legal disputes of some consumer good companies for the introduction of bio-based (packaging) products. Therefore the opportunites and obstacles for the subsitution of fossil plastics by bio-based plastics shall be examined in detail.
BiNa word circle
Are bioplastics in production, use and at the end of the life cycle really more sustainable than the fossil competitors and which challegenes are caused by the sustainability assessment? Which ecological potential provides the cascade use? What is the common level of knowledge of bioplastics and how does the general public assess the use of bioplastics? Which information mediums are effective, if the topic has to be communicated adequate for the customer? These and further question are in the focus of the research platform BiNa.
Establishment of a research platform
The research project enables a scientific based exmaniation of the current status of bioplastics in all topics which are involved in the sustainable economy. On this basis a free accessible research platform for the establishment of bioplastics as part of the green economy in Germany is set up. Thereby the discussion about biomaterials shall be de-emotionalized and a fact based basis for decision-making be established.
The work will be conducted in a consortium with a broad expertise and be focused on the aspects of ecological and socio-economic sustainability of bioplastics as well as the opportunities and obstacles which occur for the communication and commercialisation of this materials. Within the framework of this research platform a strong focus is on a close exchange with industry, science, general public and politics as well as to increase the level of information for the different stakeholder groups for bioplastics. The connection with companies of different business areas ( e.g. bioplastic producer, producer of bioplastic products and retailer) assures the evaulation of the developed strategys and methods for suitability in daily use.