22. Aug 2014
An ongoing EU funded project called SEABIOPLAS is seeking to develop a commercially viable method to utilize sustainably cultivated seaweeds as feedstock for biodegradable bioplastics – and specifically, PLA.
As noted in yesterday’s post on this site, the future of PLA, and its precursor, lactic acid, is looking extremely promising, as regulatory issues and increasing consumer awareness, as well as depleting landfill capacity, pressure from retailers, the desire for fossil oil and gas independence and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, continue to drive the growth of especially packaging applications for this material (‘New market research projects strong growth for lactic acid’).
Currently, the main feedstocks used to product PLA, as well as other biopolymers, are derived from crops such as corn, wheat, sugar beets and sugar cane. Despite studies indicating that concerns about the use of these products for the production of bioplastics does not in any way threaten either the food supply or the amount of land available for cultivating food, utilizing these nevertheless remains a controversial item.
As an alternative, the SEABIOPLAS project is investigating the use of seaweed. The advantages mentioned include higher productivities, no competition for land use, no need for fertilizers or herbicides and no freshwater consumption while offering similar sugar content and reduced CO2 emissions.
In 2010, global seaweed production (almost exclusively from aquaculture) came to 19.9 million metric tons. Of this, Europe produces a mere 0.4%. Controlled cultivation of seaweeds allows for high traceability, management of biomass composition and properties, high quality and sustainability, especially if cultivation occurs in Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) systems.
IMTA systems work by incorporating the waste products produced by one species into the diet of another species. Aquaculture produces phosphorus and nitrogen in large quantities that are lost to the surrounding ecosystem. Over 67-80% of nitrogen and 50% of phosphorus fed to farmed fish goes into the environment, either directly from the fish or from solid wastes. Seaweed is able to utilize this nitrogen and phosphorus and produce new biomass through photosynthesis.
The seaweed fermentation procedures for lactic acid production will generate seaweed residues. These by-products have potential market value in the animal feed sector. The capacity of both the cattle sector and fish aquaculture sector to absorb seaweed by-products as new ingredients is tremendous.
The project aims to offer a complete integrated solution to the plastic SMEs stakeholders through the scientific knowledge provided by the RTDs, from the production of the feedstock and the development of the biopolymers using innovative technologies of reduced environmental impact through the validation test of the seaweed-based polymers in greener plastic products (shrinkable and stretchable films, adhesives, plastic additives and coatings).
The project will run until October 2015 with a budget of €2,004,545. The project is funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). SEABIOPLAS is co-ordinated by Julie Maguire in the Daithi O’Murchu Marine Research Station (DOMMRS), Ireland. There are eleven partners in total. (KL)