Bioplastics are not just a way to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. They can also be an ingenious use of feedstock that might not seem like an obvious resource - such as the wastewater generated by the juice processing industry. EU-funded researchers have developed a process to produce bottles from this sugar-rich effluent.
© M.Studio - fotolia.com
Update: 16 November 2017
The PHBOTTLE project devised a method to derive PHB the biopolymer polyhydroxybutyrate for the production of juice bottles by fermenting wastewater from the juice processing industry. This plastic is subsequently enriched with rice hull microfibres to boost its rigidity, and with encapsulated antioxidants that extend the shelf life of the juice.
The production of bottles from the developed material was implemented by a Brazilian industrial partner involved in the consortium, in the final period of the project from May 2015 to April 2016. No new manufacturing equipment was required, says project coordinator Ana Valera of Spanish food research and development centre AINIA.
“We wanted to work with existing technologies for the production of packaging,” she explains. “Therefore the final formula of the PHB composite was adjusted.”
One of the main advantages of PHBOTTLE’s innovation lies in the fact that the bottle is biodegradable. “Our end-of-life tests found that after 18 weeks, in a composting environment, the PHB material was degraded by about 60 %,” Valera notes. Experiments conducted by the partners indicate that the material can also be recycled, she adds.
As a further benefit, the approach proposed by PHBOTTLE could help to reduce the environmental and financial impact of the rich streams of processing wastewater released by the juice industry, which are costly to treat. And juice bottles are by no means the only possible use for the project’s juice-derived polyester: the partners observe that it could be of interest for the packaging of non-food goods such as cosmetics, and for the production of components, notably for cars.