Mind & Matter


Bioplastics Are Next

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BASF's Ecovio, a biodegradable corn-based plastic. Photo: BASF.

Dustin Hoffman was told to look to plastics as the material of the future in The Graduate, today the emphasis is on bioplastics. As petroleum becomes a more expensive resource, renewable crops have become a more attractive feedstock for future polymers. Moreover, bioplastics promise to be true cradle-to-cradle materials, unlike their fossil fuel-derived cousins.

Last September, Vienna hosted the annual BioEnvironmental Polymer Society (BEPS) meeting for its first time outside the U.S. since its first convention 19 years ago. Generating quite a buzz, the conference covered many types of biopolymers—including renewable and degradable plastics as well as biocomposites. According to Hilary Crichton of Materials Views, BASF’s Head of Research Andreas Kuenkel “delighted the audience stating that companies are now willing to pour big money into biopolymers for everything from shopping bags, coatings for paper cups to biodegradable foam.”

Highlights from the BEPS conference include elastic shape memory foams made from E-coli and cellulose, responsive ultrathin films made from cellulose nanocrystals, soybean oil-based pressure sensitive glues, pyrolized chicken feathers that store hydrogen, and red oak leaf composites. Although many of these material inventions sound far-fetched, they indicate the extent to which both academia and the private sector are aggressively driving biopolymer research & development forward.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.