Engineers at the University of Sydney have embarked on a project to create the next generation of bioplastics, with an eye to applications ranging from fully recyclable shopping bags to restorative implants in the human body.
The project, funded by the Australian Research Council and local bioplastics company Cardia Bioplastics, through its 100 per cent owned subsidiary CO2Starch, aims to create purified biodegradable, renewable and carbon dioxide-based polypropylene carbonate (PPC) polymers.
The research team, led by associate professor Fariba Dehghani from the university's faculty of engineering and information technologies, is particularly looking at developing large-scale, solvent-free technologies that reduce the levels of heavy metal used in PPC.
"The project's aim is to minimise reliance on fossil fuels and address the current problems
with commercial production of sustainable bioplastics PPC starch, not just in Australia but
globally," Professor Dehghani said.
Cardia, for its part, will have commercialisation rights to the PPC process.
The initial applications will focus on medical uses of the new biopolymer.
“The outcomes of the project will have enormous significance for both our environment and human health,” Professor Dehghani said.
"The clean technologies we develop will make it possible to produce environmentally friendly plastics utilising waste carbon dioxide.
"Converting captured carbon dioxide into products such as chemicals, plastics or other commodities is pivotal in our attempts to reduce the need for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
"VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which can have short- or long-term adverse
health effects and are also potentially disastrous for our environment."
She said the synthetic polymer could be used as an alternative for a range of biomedical applications such as musculo-skeletal tissue engineering and drug delivery.
Unilever has achieved a key sustainability target of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill, with its 240 factories in 67 countries eliminating their landfill waste.