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Grantee Research Project Results

NCER Grantee Research Project Results

Sustainable Packaging Solutions based on Biodegradable Plastics

EPA Grant Number: SU835535
Title: Sustainable Packaging Solutions based on Biodegradable Plastics
Investigators: Nagarajan, Ramaswamy , Bavishi, Vishal , Magaletta, Michael , MohdAris, Zarif Farhana , Ponrathnam, Timothy
Institution: University of Massachusetts - Lowell
EPA Project Officer: Levinson, Barbara
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $14,994
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2013)
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemistry

Description:

Packaging is one of the largest market segments for the polymer industry. Food packaging industry is currently dominated by crude oil-derived, non-biodegradable polyolefin and polyesters. Due to their environmental persistence (non-biodegradability) leading to accumulation in land and water, plastic packaging materials have come under intense scrutiny. Thus there is an immediate need to develop bio-based, biodegradable plastic alternatives for food packaging. Currently, less than 1 % of plastic packaging is derived from bio-based sources. Although this sector is growing rapidly, bioplastic films do not have adequate barrier properties for being used directly in food packaging applications. The goal of this research project is to develop and test a bio based packaging solution with significantly improved barrier properties (especially to oxygen and water vapor).

Objective:

The objective of the proposed research effort is to develop novel coating formulations and appropriate processes to significantly enhance the gas barrier properties of bioderived polylactic acid (PLA) films. The surface modification of PLA would be carried with the following considerations:

  • Renewable, non-toxic and biobased polyelectrolytes such as chitosan and natural clays such as montmorillonite (MMT) would be used
  • The coating process will be carried our using safe methods and solvents
  • The modified PLA film should provide substantially lower Oxygen transmission rate (OTR) and Water Vapor Transmission Rate (WVTR)

Approach:

The objectives of this research effort is to use biodegradable substrates such as polylactic acid as a potential food packaging material and to develop an optimal coating formulation to improve oxygen and water vapor barrier properties. The coatings are combination of biodegradable materials such as chitosan, naturally sourced fatty acids/esters and nano-clay. Chitosan and fatty acids/esters reduces absorption of oxygen/water vapor molecules on the surface of the film. Ionically charged nano-clay increases tortuosity in the transport path, thereby reducing diffusion of any absorbed molecules through the films. Coating on both side of PLA reduces desorption of any molecules that might have diffused through the film. Effect of each of the layers on oxygen and water vapor transmission will be studied.

Expected Results:

Chitosan, fatty acids and nano-clay layers are expected to substantially reduce the oxygen transmission and water vapor transmission rate through PLA films.  These films will be tested using ASTM D3985, E96, F1249 for barrier properties. The goal of the project is to reduce the oxygen transmission rate of PLA films to <10 cc/m2/day/atm and moisture vapor transmission rate to <1g/m2/day/atm. Effect of coatings on mechanical and optical properties of the films will also studied.

Supplemental Keywords:

Surface treatment, coating, biodegradable films, compostable films, gas barrier, plastic films, natural products, water based coatings;

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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