Biopolymers are a class of polymers produced by living organisms. Starch, proteins and peptides, DNA, and RNA are all examples of biopolymers, in which the monomeric units, respectively, are sugars, amino acids, and nucleotides.
Some plastics are now referred to as being 'degradable', 'oxy-degradable' or 'UV-degradable'. This means that they break down when exposed to light or air, but these plastics are still primarily (as much as 98 per cent) oil-based and are not currently certified as 'biodegradable' under the European Union directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC). Biopolymers, however, will break down and some are suitable for domestic composting.
Biopolymers (also called renewable polymers) are produced from biomass for use in the packaging industry. Biomass comes from crops such as sugar beet, potatoes or wheat: when used to produce biopolymers, these are classified as non food crops. These can be converted in the following pathways:
Sugar beet > Glyconic acid > Polyglonic acid
Many types of packaging can be made from biopolymers: food trays, blown starch pellets for shipping fragile goods, thin films for wrapping.
Biopolymers are renewable, sustainable, and can be carbon neutral
Biopolymers are renewable, because they are made from plant materials which can be grown year on year indefinitely. These plant materials come from agricultural non food crops. Therefore, the use of biopolymers would create a sustainable industry. In contrast, the feedstocks for polymers derived from petrochemicals will eventually run out. In addition, biopolymers have the potential to cut carbon emissions and reduce CO2 quantities in the atmosphere: this is because the CO2 released when they degrade can be reabsorbed by crops grown to replace them: this makes them close to carbon neutral.
Biopolymers are biodegradable, and some are also compostable
Some biopolymers are biodegradable: they are broken down into CO2 and water by microorganisms. In addition, some of these biodegradable biopolymers are compostable: they can be put into an industrial composting process and will break down by 90% within 6 months. Biopolymers that do this can be marked with a 'compostable' symbol, under European Standard EN 13432 (2000). Packaging marked with this symbol can be put into industrial composting processes and will break down within 6 months (or less). An example of a compostable polymer is PLA film under 20μm thick: films which are thicker than that do not qualify as compostable, even though they are biodegradable. A home composting logo may soon be established: this will enable consumers to dispose of packaging directly onto their own compost heap. The standards for such a home composting logo have not yet been developed.
WIPO ASSIGNS PATENT TO KOREA RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF BIOSCIENCE AND BIOTECHNOLOGY FOR "NOVEL BIOPOLYMER CRYSTALLIZATION PLATE, BIOPOLYMER CRYSTALLIZATION METHOD USING SAME, AND METHOD FOR DIRECTLY COLLECTING X-RAY DIFFRACTION DATA FROM THE BIOPOLYMER CRYSTAL GENERATED BY SAME" (SOUTH KOREAN INVENTORS)
Feb 01, 2011; GENEVA, Feb. 1 -- Publication No. WO/2011/010868 was published on Jan. 27. Title of the invention: "NOVEL Biopolymer...
US Patent Issued to Tufts University on Sept. 10 for "Biopolymer Sensor and Method of Manufacturing the Same" (Massachusetts, New York Inventors)
Sep 10, 2013; ALEXANDRIA, Va., Sept. 10 -- United States Patent no. 8,529,835, issued on Sept. 10, was assigned to Tufts University (Medford,...