A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Jiangnan University found that a simple heat treatment could improve a biodegradable plastic’s properties and at the same time, could make its industrial-scale production possible.
The biodegradable plastic is composed of polylactide, a more environment friendly alternative to petroleum, which most plastics are made of. The heat treatment includes subjecting the plant-derived plastic fibers to rapid heating of up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and subsequent slow cooling.
This results to a large improvement on the plastic’s susceptibility to heat and moisture, while maintaining its mechanical strength integrity. This thermal step also allows the production process to eliminate costs, tedious processes, and solvents which have their own environmental issues, and therefore permits to manufacture a commercially viable biodegradable plastic.
“The problem is that people couldn’t find a way to make it work so that you could use it on large scales. So we just used a cheap way that can be applied continuously, which is a big part of the equation. You have to be able to do it continuously in order to have large-scale production. Those are the important factors,” said Yang, Charles Bessey Professor of biology systems engineering.