UK biotech company Toraphene has announced the introduction of a new biodegradable, backyard compostable and commercially viable alternative to plastic packaging. The new material, also called Toraphene, is composed of a bioplastic filled with graphene, a material stronger than diamond at the atomic level.
According to the company, which was founded in 2018 by Gaute Juliussen, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and associate professor of Business, Toraphene will compost naturally in the environment and biodegrade without human intervention, even in the ocean.
As Juliussen points out, while biodegradable plastics currently exist, they rely on commercial composting, which uses energy to heat the compost, as well as presenting other logistical challenges. Moreover, some bioplastics produce methane gas when they decompose, a compound with a global warming potential 25 times that of CO2. Toraphene can be optimised to mostly produce CO2 along with mulch that can be used to fortify topsoil.
Is it certified?
“Some of the feedstock biopolymer compounds we use are certified as industrially compostable according to the European standard EN13432. Others are certified according to TUV OK biodegradable MARINE and TUV OK biodegradable SOIL,” said Juliussen. “We’ll keep an eye on all standards and will apply to any we feel relevant and necessary.”
Due to the addition of graphene, Toraphene has been shown to be stronger, thinner, and less permeable than alternatives, improving food safety and shelf-life.
Once composting starts, natural microorganisms consume the biopolymers that Toraphene predominantly consist of. What happens to the graphene?
“The remaining fraction of graphene flakes naturally agglomerate and turn back into graphite. The natural agglomeration is due to graphene’s large specific surface area ( 2630 m2/g) and strong Van der Waals cohesive forces,” explained Juliussen.
“Graphite is chemically inert and non-toxic and does not cause any harm to the human or animal body. If released into nature graphite does not cause any harm to the environment,” he continued. “Graphite is used in wide range of products including drinking water treatment, pencils, lubricants, electric motor brushes, batteries and pharmaceutical / medical implants. It was substituted as a safe alternative to asbestos in automobile brake lining after airborne asbestos fibres were found to be toxic.”
Birgit Liodden, founder of The Ocean Opportunity Lab, sees excellent potential for Toraphene. “We all know how pressing the climate crisis is, and plastic pollution is a huge problem, particularly in our ocean environments,” she said. “I’m very heartened by the prospect of Toraphene, which should be a transformative step in tackling plastic pollution and play a huge role in making the world’s oceans plastic-free.
Depending on the product, the material is suitable for extrusion or roll-to-roll manufacturing; it can be spray coated, and 3D printed.
Juliussen sees a range of applications opening up for the material, which has been patented in the UK, EU, and the US, including health worker PPE, wound care and composites; further into the future, the material could find application in adhesive tape and intelligent packaging.
To generate the required funding, an equity crowdfunding campaign has also been launched on Crowdcube.