New Zealand researchers have again been honoured on the international stage with a new environmentally friendly biofoam winning a prestigious annual International Bioplastics Awards in the "Best Innovation in Bioplastics" category.
The novel low density, polylactic acid (PLA) foam was entered in the awards on account of its green credentials, key performance attributes at low densities comparable to existing oil-based materials such as expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), and its ability to be processed on existing EPS manufacturing lines.
The awards were presented on December 3 in Munich, Germany and accepted on behalf of the Biopolymer Network, by awards director Mr Steve Crowhurst.
The research and product development was undertaken by a team of Scion scientists within the Biopolymer Network, a joint venture between three of New Zealand's Crown Research Institutes, Scion, AgResearch and Plant & Food Research.
Scion Chief Executive, Tom Richardson, says the creation of the biofoam uses a cost-effective, environmentally friendly process to make moulded biopolymer foams from sustainable, renewable resources.
"While traditional plastics are primarily derived from oil, polylactic acid (PLA) is rapidly emerging as the world's leading bioplastic and is a sustainable 'green plastic' largely derived from corn," he says.
"Within this project, we have extended the functional application and use of this commercial bioplastic,
creating a new biofoam. The foam offers similar performance standards to the materials that are more familiar to people such as polystyrene, which is made from traditional, oil-based plastic."
Biopolymer Network Acting Chief Executive, Sarah Heine, says the proprietary process involves expanding PLA beads using a 'green' blowing agent, carbon dioxide (CO2), in place of existing high ozone depleting (hydrocarbon) blowing agents.
"This biofoam ticks the sustainability box and can potentially be used in many applications where polystyrene is traditionally applied such as in thermal or acoustic insulation and typical building practices."
The process has been demonstrated in a commercial polystyrene moulding plant in New Zealand to prove the concept is operable on real, existing, manufacturing lines, removing many barriers to uptake which may otherwise have existed.
Sarah say: "This is a "win-win-win" situation for the manufacturer, the end-user customer and the environment.
"But our research does not stop here as we seek to continually develop new biofoam processes and products that
are cost-effective, environmentally preferred and offer enhanced performance. Once developed, our aim is to take these through to commercialisation with appropriate partners."
The Bioplastics Awards are organised by European Plastics News, Europe's leading pan-European plastics magazine and organiser of the annual Bioplastics Conference.
The Bioplastics Awards focus on bio-sourced polymers and aim to show how bio-derived plastics can play a useful part in the sustainable future of the polymer industry.
The Biopolymer Network Ltd's mission is to create a focus of scientific and technological excellence in the conversion of sustainable natural resources to biopolymers and biocomposite products.