New Biomaterial Could Replace Plastic

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Researchers, at the Pennsylvania State University, have discovered a new biomaterial that could replace the plastic barrier coating in packaging. The researchers believe the use of this material could greatly reduce pollution.

The new material is made of equal parts of treated cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan. Chitosan is found in exoskeletons of anthropods and crustaceans. Researchers have taken the chitosan from the massive amounts of leftover shells from lobster, crab and shrimp consumption.

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The lead researcher, Jeffrey Catchmark (pictured below), a professor of agricultural and biological engineering, said “The material’s unexpected strong, insoluble adhesive properties are useful for packaging as well as other applications, such as better performing, fully natural wood-fiber composites for construction and even flooring, and the technology has the potential to be incorporated into foods to reduce fat uptake during frying and maintain crispness. Since the coating is essentially fiber-based, it is a means of adding fiber to diets.”

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Catchmark also noted that there is 300 millions tons of plastic produced each year. ScienceDaily also notes “In a recent year, more than 29 million tons of plastic became municipal solid waste in the U.S. and almost half was plastic packaging. It is anticipated that 10 percent of all plastic produced globally will become ocean debris, representing a significant ecological and human health threat.” With this new biomaterial, plastic pollution can be greatly reduced.

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Catchmark had been working on finding a green solution to plastics for nearly a decade. Now that he has found a solution, he must find a way to keep prices for creation down or commercialization will not be possible. “Because when you make a change to something that is greener or sustainable, you really have to pay for the switch,” Catchmark said. “So it has to be less expensive in order for companies to actually gain something from it. This creates a problem for sustainable materials — an inertia that has to be overcome with a lower cost.” He is currently working with several partners in order to make the biomaterial useful in several commercial industries.


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