New sugar-based recyclable plastic invented in Switzerland
Another Swiss invention to add to the list: researchers at universities in Switzerland and Austria have invented a new type of biodegradable plastic that is made from sugar. Experts hope to use the heat-resistant PET-like plastic for food packaging in the near future.
Scientists in Switzerland discover new organic plastic
Scientists from the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna announced that they had successfully created a new plastic made of biomass. Similar to PET - the plastic used for most plastic bottles in Europe - the new compound is more environmentally friendly than regular plastic and can be manufactured cheaply.
Unlike other biodegradable or recyclable plastics being developed - which use advanced fibres and synthetic materials - the team in Lausanne converted agricultural waste into sugar and then used the sugar compounds as the “building blocks” for the plastic. According to Jeremy Luterbacher from the EPFL, “We essentially just cook wood or other non-edible plant material, such as agricultural wastes, in inexpensive chemicals to produce the plastic precursor in one step.”
Swiss made sugar-based plastic can be manufactured cheaply
The plastic was developed by the EPFL after a major discovery in 2016. In the study, scientists found that when aldehyde - an organic compound - is added to plant material, the chemical stabilises the plant matter and allows it to “stick to sides of sugar molecules,” creating the base for the plastic. “By using this simple technique, we are able to convert up to 25 percent of the weight of agricultural waste, or 95 percent of purified sugar, into plastic,” a researcher noted.
According to Luterbacher, “What makes the plastic unique is the presence of the intact sugar structures. This makes it incredibly easy to make because you don’t have to modify what nature gives you, and the plastic is simple to degrade because it can go back to a molecule that is already abundant in nature.”
The EPFL hopes the plastic will be used by entrepreneurs and international companies in food packaging. The team has already branched out to other areas and is looking to use the technology for clothing, 3D printing and medicine in the future.