Plastic from plants makes greener food packaging
While switching from oil-based plastic food packaging to biodegradable plant-based alternatives is eco-friendly there are a number of practical problems in going green.
A cross disciplinary team of scientists from Brunel used complex computer-based modelling tools to address how green plastics would perform compared to traditional plastics when they are being turned into food containers for the supermarket shelf.
Materials engineer Professor Jim Song found that in the factory, eco-friendly plastics behave very differently. Because they are starch-based, their performance is affected by moisture content.
Once Prof Song had teased out these parameters experimentally, computer scientists Professor John Whiteman, Dr Simon Shaw and Dr Mike Warby were able to develop models that would accurately predict the behaviour of the new materials.
Such tools are essential not only for the design of moulds but to establish the correct processing of the raw material. Now packaging designers can confidently predict the wall thickness and the eventual stiffness and strength of green containers so they can be produced in their millions.
During the research, the Brunel experts worked closely with the world’s largest manufacturer of biodegradable plastics, Plantic PLC, so the results were fed back rapidly to industry.