Polymer Group and Fraunhofer IAP
Production plant for novel bioplastics starts operation
The successful development is the result of several years of collaboration between the Polymer Group and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP, which was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. On 5 July 2022, the commissioning of the first production line in Pferdsfeld was celebrated with 150 guests.
Lactic acid with strong market potentialThe bioplastic PLA, also known as polylactic acid or polylactide, is obtained from lactic acid and has some of the strongest market potential in the field of bioplastics. However, conventional PLA materials are often stiff and brittle. SoBiCo GmbH therefore intends to open up completely new fields of application for PLA, a bioplastic that is already widely used today, in the form of a copolymer, for example for flexible packaging films, automotive injection moulded parts and thermoplastic elastomers for construction applications. "Our newly developed PLA copolymers are characterised by the fact that their mechanical properties can be adjusted over a very wide range," explains Dr Gerald Hauf, managing director of the Polymer Group. "For example, elongations at break – a characteristic value that indicates how deformable a material is - of 3 to 300 percent can be achieved with Plactid. This makes these bioplastics interesting for a much broader range of applications than it is the case with conventional PLA," says Hauf.
Material and process developmentIn both the development of the PLA copolymer and the process for its production, SoBiCo GmbH benefited from the extensive know-how of the polymer specialists at the Fraunhofer IAP in Potsdam. The production process, which is novel for PLA, is based on reactive compounding, in which a PLA copolymer is synthesised from lactide and another comonomer. The partners have combined the usually separate process steps of polymerisation and compounding in a single process. This saves time, energy and costs.
Dr Antje Lieske, head of department Polymer Synthesis at the Fraunhofer IAP in Potsdam, Germany, says: "We can control very precisely how flexible the material is in the end via the proportion of bio-based PLA in the plastic produced in this way. Our PLA copolymers are currently between 75 and 95 percent bio-based. Our goal in the future is to produce completely bio-based plastics with these mechanical properties that can replace petroleum-based plastics in as many applications as possible."