New technique to make biodegradable plastic cheaper

London, July 7 (IANS) Researchers have developed a way to make production of bioplastic known as polylactic acid (PLA) cheaper and greener.

The findings could help make the biodegradable plastic a full-fledged alternative to cheaper traditional petroleum-based plastics.

“Our new method has several advantages compared to the traditional technique: We produce more PLA with less waste and without using metals. In addition, the production process is cheaper, because we can skip a step,” said one of the researchers, Michiel Dusselier, from the University of Leuven in Belgium.

The bioplastic PLA, which is not yet a full alternative for petroleum-based plastics due to its cost, is derived from renewable resources, including sugar in maize and sugar cane.

Fermentation turns sugar into lactic acid, which in turn is a building block for polylactic acid.

The production process for PLA is expensive because of the intermediary steps.

Explaining the new method for PLA production, Dusselier noted, “We have applied a petrochemical concept to biomass.”

“Of course, PLA will never fully replace petroleum-based plastics. Some objects such as toilet drain pipes are not meant to be biodegradable. And it is not our intention to promote disposable plastic. But products made of PLA can now become cheaper and greener,” professor Bert Sels from KU Leuven Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis explained.

The findings were published in the journal Science.

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