PLA Gets Tougher

Did you know that PLA can now be made up to four times tougher?

The groundbreaking plant-based polymer blend, Floreon, is revolutionising the way people think about bioplastics. PLA is quickly becoming a popular alternative to many traditional petroleum-based plastics, but Floreon has developed the number one performing bioplastic.

Floreon is a specially formulated compound, which is added to PLA to create an innovative material with a natural origin and numerous end of life options. This gives the consumer a product which can boost the performance of standard PLA but still carries the environmental message.

Floreon offers significant benefits over other commonly used fossil-based plastics.

Performance

Floreon is a compounded product that boosts the performance of PLA in selected applications. One key improvement is the higher toughness, it is four time tougher than standard PLA (tested via falling dart impact on PLA and Floreon sheet) and almost twice as tough as PET (Notched Izod, injection moulded specimens). Again, this is achieved at very low addition levels compared to other additives for PLA, maintaining bio-based content and end of life options.

The high modulus (stiffness) of PLA is maintained whilst boosting the toughness of the material, so Floreon items can still hold their shape as well as regular PLA. Floreon is easy to process, mould and form and has also been used for lithographic printing.

Not only has this bioplastic seen improvements in performance, but it has excellent gloss and transparency, it is completely safe and has passed independent food contact testing by Smithers-Rapra. It can be processed by extrusion, injection molding, film and sheet casting, and spinning, providing access to a wide range of applications.

Environmental

The manufacture of PLA results in 60% lower greenhouse gas emissions and requires 50% less non-renewable energy than similar plastics, such as PET and polystyrene (PS) (1). PLA also processes at much lower temperatures than other plastics such as polycarbonate, resulting in additional energy savings. Additional end of life options for PLA include (industrial) composting and feedstock recovery.

Floreon boosts the performance of this green material without compromising any of its green credentials. In fact, Floreon can make PLA easier to process at low temperatures by lubricating the melt and increasing the melt flow index. The additives in Floreon are effective at very low addition levels, preserving the high biobased content and in certain applications can be completely biodegradable if required (certified to EN13432).

Sustainability

PLA can be made from any source of fermentable sugar, and in the case of Floreon this is currently corn starch. The use of polymers derived from renewable resources offer benefits to society and the environment by reducing the demands for fossil resources.

Oil prices show a great degree of variability. At the moment, the cost of PLA is very stable and is close to achieving cost parity with other plastics. The global production capacity of PLA will more than double over the next few years and in the long term alternative feedstocks for PLA production will make the material far cheaper.

Recyclability

Recycling of PLA is already a reality and Floreon blends are in development containing various amounts of recycled PLA (rPLA). Many independent studies have shown how PLA can be successfully sorted from other plastics and further information can be found on the Natureworks website. We are currently working with a leading PLA recycler to verify that Floreon blends can be recycled with unmodified PLA.

As the volume of PLA items in the general waste stream is relatively small, few recycling facilities actively sort post-consumer PLA for recycling, although this will change as volumes increase. Even so, Floreon has a wide range of end of life options.

End of life

Whatever the end of life scenario, the lower energy use and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of Floreon offer benefits over the current situation with oil-based plastics.

One exciting possibility in the late stages of commercial development for PLA/ Floreon is feedstock recovery, where the base polymer (polylactic acid) is converted back to the feedstock (lactic acid) which can then be polymerised back to virgin PLA, avoiding the downcycling associated with other plastics.

Floreon can be formulated to be industrially compostable where applications suit.

Whilst PLA recycling is already a reality, the current volume of PLA usage means this is not yet fully exploited to maximum potential. Despite the technical feasibility, PLA is seldom sorted from mixed plastics waste as the volumes are not yet attractive or economically feasible for recycling facilities to do so. Despite this fact, these materials still compare favourably over oil based plastics in the general waste stream.

If not sorted from mixed waste, these plastics will either be used for energy recovery or disposed of in landfill. Since bioplastics are derived from renewable resources, when incinerated they are effectively a renewable energy source as the carbon contained in the plastic has been taken from the atmosphere by plants and is simply being returned to the atmosphere in a short carbon cycle.

Finally, should PLA items end up in landfill then they will not degrade. However, the energy used to produce the items and the greenhouse gases released in their production are still lower than many other plastic items that have also been disposed of in this way.

(1) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/Eco-Profile-and-LCA

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