Source: Bioplastics NEWS

Author: Axel Barrett

How sustainable bioplastics are remains dubious. They are still rather niche products. But science is making great progress in the search for plastic alternatives. In Hamburg, three women are developing new types of bioplastics.

The experimental hall at Hamburg University of Technology: lots of pipes, pressure boilers, valves and a sweet, musty smell. “This is where we have tested out many different biomasses and also developed some of our products,” says scientist Wienke Reynolds. “This is the think tank.” The substance Reynolds and her two colleagues from the Lignopure project are targeting is lignin. Along with cellulose, lignin is one of the main ingredients in wood.

Project founder Joana Gil shows us a specimen jar filled with water. Small brown beads are floating in it. “We can make this in different sizes for the cosmetic industry. They’re made of lignin and another bio-based material. We’d like to make this for body scrubs or shower gel, for example.” She believes these microbeads could replace microplastics in scrubs or toothpaste. In the sewage treatment plant, they would be completely degraded – unlike microplastics.

With regards to CO2 optimization, co-founder, Wienke Reynolds explains: “It’s difficult in some respects, of course: if we get our lignin from paper mills, to what extent do we have to include the CO2 emissions of the paper manufacturers? Of course, that’s not entirely small.” But lignin is available as a residual material, she said. And if you start from the lignin itself, then the further refining processes are not nearly as energy intensive as, for example, those for separating crude oil and then producing plastics from the components.

Lignopure’s team of researchers is currently setting up a company. It then wants to purchase lignin on a large scale, develop plastic solutions for its customers or perhaps even produce lignin itself. The interest is there. The materials made from lignin could, at least in part, become a sensible alternative to plastic.

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