Plastic Film Made from Whey
Food protective film made from whey. Photo by the Fraunhofer Institute.
One of the greatest benefits offered by plastics is protection against spoilage—in food, medicines, and even buildings. Transparent multilayer films used in food packaging keep nature’s degenerating forces at bay. These barrier films, made from petroleum-based polymers like ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), are pervasive—the German Society for Packaging Market Research estimates that Germany’s output of EVOH-composite materials will soon approximate 250 square miles per year.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have recently developed a better alternative to petroleum-based EVOH using whey proteins. According to Markus Schmid with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging, “We’ve managed to develop a whey protein formulation that can be used as the raw material for a film barrier layer. And we have also developed an economically viable process which can be used to produce the multifunctional films on an industrial scale.”
Producing a protective packaging film made from biodegradable proteins posed certain challenges. The researchers tested a number of protein-purification processes, softeners, and additives to produce strong yet flexible films. With the success of their most recent material, the scientists predict the availability of whey-based thermoformable composites as well as films. Both applications are predicted to utilize resources more efficiently and reduce CO2 emissions when compared with traditional EVOH films.