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Additive extends the use of PLA, claims DuPont

By Jane Byrne , 03-Nov-2008

A new modifier for bio-based polylactic acid (PLA) packaging can enable it to withstand elevated temperatures during transport, storage and use, claims DuPont.

The company said the new additive, Biomax Thermal 300, is US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliant and increases the dimensional stability of PLA materials to temperatures of up to 95°C.

Susan Homan, global marketing manager for sustainable materials at DuPont, said that PLA’s adoption to date has been restricted to the packaging of chilled food and beverages due to its tendency to deform at 55°C and above.

“By offering a modifier that raises the working temperature of PLA, we hope to enable a broader range of applications for the material,” said Homan.

She said that the new additive contains 50 per cent renewably sourced content by weight.

Series of modifiers

The Biomax Thermal 300 is the second modifier for PLA from DuPont. The company introduced its Biomax Strong 120 polymer additive last year with the aim of toughening PLA packaging materials and improving their processibility and flexibility in rigid structures.

According to DuPont, both of the polymer additives can be added directly to the extrusion process.

Biomax Thermal is currently only available in the US, but the company claims that rollout to Europe and Asia will occur in early 2009.

In recent years, packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable plastics. These are made from a variety of plants, in the main corn, in response to projections that consumers and recycling regulations will drive demand for environmentally-friendly packaging.

Retailer take-up

NatureWorks, part of Cargill, is one the main movers behind the biodegradable packaging trend with its introduction of polylactic acid (PLA), a corn-based polymer.

Companies like US-based Naturally Iowa have been using PLA for packaging products like organic milk.

Retailers like Delhaize in Belgium, Auchan in France, Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer, and Tesco in the UK, Coop in Switzerland and the Europe-wide chain Aldi have also been employing PLA for various food packaging.

Global production

Melanie Gentzik, communications spokesperson for the trade association, European Bioplastics, told FoodProductionDaily.com that global production capacity will quadruple from nearly 300,000 tons today to over a million tons by 2011.

“Approximately a dozen beverages are currently sold in bioplastic bottles worldwide. In order to handle rapidly growing demand, several companies from the bioplastics industry are at the point of making substantial investments into larger production plants,” she added.

She said that bioplastics should be regarded as a solution to promote sustainable development and not as a threat to it, and that many companies are currently investigating the use of non-food crops for bioplastic production.