Indian Australian scientist promotes green plastics

November 6th, 2008 - 1:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Melbourne, Nov 6 (IANS) With plastic garbage becoming the bane of modern societies, an Indian Australian scientist says 100 percent biodegradable bioplastics is the only way to go, especially in the growing populated economies of India and China.”We are providing bio-responsible material solutions for the world market that deliver all the functionality of conventional petrochemically derived plastics in an economical, totally organic and eco-sensitive way,” Melbourne-based Plantic Technologies Limited’s Chief Technology Officer Kishan Khemani told IANS in an interview here.

Plantic Technologies manufactures starch-based polymers for packaging and other applications. Its novel technology is based on the use of high-amylose corn starch, a material derived from annual harvesting of specialised non-genetically modified (hybrid) corn unlike other bioplastics companies which convert corn starch into polymers through a complex and expensive refinery process.

“This type of starch with its unique chemical and film-forming properties allows development of a range of applications across conventional plastics markets. It is not only renewably sourced, it is biodegradable and compostable unlike petrochemically derived plastics that create significant waste management costs and major environmental problems,” says Khemani, who graduated from Bhagalpur University in Bihar and completed his doctorate from the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

The plastics market worldwide is about 100 million tonnes and the Asia-Pacific region caters for 19 percent of it. “We are doing some trials with Cadburys India for chocolate boxes and will be exploring other opportunities in India as with growing affluence, use of plastics in packaging will only grow,” says Khemani, who has worked in India, Canada and the US before joining Australia-based Plantic in 2005.

Khemani sees bioplastics as the only alternative to petrochemical-based plastics, especially as crude oil resources diminish and prices spiral. He says: “Almost 50 percent of consumers consider at least one sustainability factor in selecting consumer packaged goods items and at the same time brand owners and retailers are demanding `green’ products. Our bioplastic uses on an average 40 percent less energy across its entire life cycle than fossil fuel plastics.”

The growth rate of petrochemical plastics is five percent per annum, but as people and governments commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the market for bio-polymers is forecast to grow by 230 percent to 300,000 tonnes over the next five years.

Sustainable bioplastics may be classified as polymers using biomass, polysaccharides (starch, cellulose), protein and lipids and those derived from micro-organisms or plant cells and bio-derived monomers such as lactic acid.

From food and beverage packaging to medical, automotive and aerospace applications, the Plantic technology is being used by many international companies - WalMart, Toyota, GM, DuPont, Dow, Cadbury Schweppes, Nestle, Kellogs, Kraft, Lindt - going the ‘green’ packaging way.

Plantic’s Biodegradable Lethal Ovitrap (BLO), which is a faster, cheaper and environmentally safer way of killing mosquitoes than interior spraying techniques, can also be very useful in India for controlling the spread of dengue.

Khemani explains: “The dengue mosquito lays its eggs in a container of water such as the BLO. An insecticidal strip is placed inside the bucket, creating a ‘booby trap’ that kills the mosquito and the eggs before they have the opportunity to spread dengue. It eliminates the risk of traps becoming breeding sites when the insecticide becomes inactive.”

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