Scientists create waterproof paper out of sugarcane waste

August 14th, 2008 - 11:57 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Aug 14 (IANS) Brisbane biotechnologists have found a way to utilise cellulose in unused sugarcane plant material to produce waterproof papers and industrial cardboards. Fully recyclable, waterproof paper board could reduce billions of tonnes of landfill around the world. Today, the only technology available to manufacturers is cardboard coated with a petroleum-based wax which renders the packaging non-recyclable or petroleum based plastics.

Principal researchers and biotechnologists, Les Edye and Bill Doherty, made their discovery while working for the Cooperative Research Centre for Sugarcane Innovation through Biotechnology (CRC SIIB).

The CRC SIIB, based at the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, was formed in 2003 to add value to Australia’s sugarcane industry.

The scientists have been working for the CRC SIIB in the area of bio-refining, which helps identify downstream product opportunities, or new manufacturing potential, based on knowledge available to scientists working on sugarcane.

According to Doherty, the untapped, “green” potential of sugarcane’s biomass is enormous and extremely exciting for the sugarcane industry.

“Our work is revealing how we may actually use more of the entire sugarcane plant, millions of tonnes of unused plant matter or biomass, for future manufacturing and energy production of which waterproof cardboard might provide just one very promising commercial option,” Doherty said.

“The CRC process requires the extraction of cellulose (from cane biomass) and then combined with new fermentation technology to make a type of lignin that would form the basis of a waterproof coating for a variety of papers.

“Our process would potentially allow sugarcane growers and mills to team up with paper manufacturers to produce internationally sought-after waterproof and biodegradable products - waterproof cardboard boxes and containers, waterproof paper bill-boards, even waterproof paper tarpaulins for emergency relief - all made from natural materials and all 100 percent recyclable and environment friendly.”

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