Canadian Plastics

This non-toxic biodegradable plastic film is based on seaweed

Developed at India's National Institute of Ocean Technology, the films will safely break down in the environment without leaving any toxicity.

February 1, 2021   Canadian Plastics

Photo Credit: divedog/Adobe Stock

Researchers at India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) have developed a bioplastic film using marine seaweed which could have a huge impact on limiting the usage of non-biodegradable plastics, and might even become a game-changer in the plastic industry.

The film is a combination of Kappaphycus alvarezii – a species of red algae seaweed – and the plasticizer polyethylene glycol (PEG)-3000, and a big benefit of the development is that bio-plastic films safely break down in the environment without leaving any toxicity and also provide physical and mechanical properties that meet the properties of conventional plastics. But this alternative to producing biodegradable plastics ensures that biomass used for feedstocks are not disturbed.

In a densely populated country like India, different hazardous plastics are used rampantly due to the need for packaging of different consumer and food products. Researchers from NIOT, which is headquartered in Chennai, have successfully developed and tested bioplastic films by opting environment-friendly techniques utilizing seaweed. Utilization of renewable seaweed is one of those options they found viable.

Red algae Kappaphycus alvarezii is a seaweed proven to be an important commercial source of carrageenans and other products that have wide range of industrial applications. These algae are highly colloidal and are found to be cheap to grow within a short cultivation time (45 days) by just using sunlight without the need for freshwater or chemicals. They are also potential sources of polymers similar to the terrestrial plant-based polymers that are used to manufacture food packaging and carry bags which facilitate good oxygen and moisture permeability. As good oxygen and moisture permeability are two essential parameters for the packaging of fresh produce to extend their shelf life, NIOT researchers suggest that red seaweed could be our environmental savior when it comes to replacing harmful plastics.

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NIOT researchers utilized a macro-algae Kappaphycus alvarezii (whole seaweed) which they cultivated in the Gulf of Mannar region for bioplastic film production with PEG-3000 to achieve higher tensile strength. PEG is a non-toxic and eco-friendly polymer, mainly used to increase the thermos-plasticity of the polymer used in the medicinal fields to make creams and dispersing agents that are used in medicinal products.

The result of the present NIOT study revealed that bioplastic polymers can biodegrade naturally in a short time without producing any toxic wastes. These can also be disposed of through ordinary food waste collection mechanism. The study suggests that commercial manufacturing of bioplastics from these seaweeds would be a game- changer in the coming time.

The study was led by Dr. Muthiyal Prabakaran Sudhakar, Mr. Dhassiah Magesh Peter and Dr. Gopal Dharani from Ocean Science and Technology for Islands, Marine Biotechnology, NIOT, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India, Chennai.

Source: India Science Wire


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