Waste Not
New Bioplastic Could Eliminate 50 Million Tons of Annual E-Waste

Italian biotech firm Bio-on has developed a bioplastic called PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoate), made from agricultural processing waste materials, which is 100 percent biodegradable in water and soil and can be used as a substrate for electric circuits. When combined with suitable nanofillers, the polymer can act as an electricity conductor, with the potential of replacing plastics in most electronics.

The company says the use of PHAs can help put a dent in the 50 million tons of waste produced worldwide every year from discarded smartphones, tablets, computers and other electronics.

Bio-on says the use of bioplastics can go far beyond smartphones and tablets to applications in highly advanced technological sectors, due to their advanced technical performance and biocompatibility. In the future, this also could lead to the development of bio-based sensors and electro-medical equipment for health care.

The possibility of incorporating electrical and electronic circuits in plastic substrates to obtain flexible, lightweight and easily integrated electronics, has been the subject of investigation by a team of Italian researchers from the Departments of Engineering of the Universities of Modena-Reggio Emilia and Perugia.

The researchers integrated carbon nanoparticles, including nanotubes and graphene, into bioplastics produced by Bio-on, making them suitable for the development of sustainable electronics. The preliminary results of this research were presented in Rome during BIOPOL 2013, the International Conference on Biodegradable and Biobased Polymers.

“This type of plastic reduces the environmental impact of the device,” said Paola Fabbri, a researcher at the Enzo Ferrari Department of Engineering of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. “This makes recovery easier and cheaper. As much of the plastics currently used in electronics can now be replaced by biopolymers such as Bio-on’s, many businesses can already benefit by reducing the impact of the life cycle analysis of electronic devices.”

In related news, BASF recently announced a strategic manufacturing partnership with Heritage Plastics, Inc. to produce the chemical company’s ecovio® compostable bioplastic products in North America. The partnership enables BASF to expand manufacturing of its ecovio biopolymers, which are currently only produced in Europe. ecovio production will begin immediately at the Heritage facility in Picayune, Mississippi.

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