Spanish plastic technology centre Andaltec has launched BioNanocel, a new biobased plastics project aimed at the development of high-value, sustainable packaging with enhanced properties to extend the shelf life of the food and improve its preservation conditions.
The new material will be based on cellulose obtained from plant biomass derived from agricultural activity. Currently, some 22% of the production of the Spanish agrifood sector is waste. Finding a way to put this to good use in the form of high-value packaging would be a sustainable and welcome solution.
The BioNanocel project fits with the current activities of the institute, where researchers are already working on the development of biodegradable and compostable plastics suitable for food packaging. Not only must these materials meet the high-quality standards applying to food packaging, but they must also be sustainable, an increasingly common demand of customers and brands. A series of final film demonstrators will be developed during the project that offer barrier properties against oxygen, steam, fat and microorganisms.
Agricultural waste includes biomass originating from olive grove pruning, sunflower harvest waste or wood from cotton harvest. Such plant biomass is mainly comprised of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin - three very interesting compounds, said José Antonio Rodríguez, who is leading the BioNanocel project.
“Cellulose, which is one of the most abundant of natural polymers, is the main component of agricultural waste. This biopolymer can become the base to synthesise a great variety of high added-value products, which can also be very valuable when applied on the food packaging industry."
First, the researchers aim to develop an efficient process to extract and purify the cellulose obtained from the collected agricultural waste. The cellulose will subsequently be used to create high added-value compounds, like nanocellulose and cellulose acetate.
“This initiative is also going to prove that plastic is the best material for food packaging. It not only implies low cost and advantages for product transport and preservation, but also sustainability and low environmental impact: it features a vegetal origin, it is compostable and benefits from a manufacturing process which is low in water consumption and greenhouse effect gases emissions”, said Rodríguez.
The BioNanocel project has received funding under the R&D scheme for private entities of the department for Economy, Business and University of the Andalusian government.