Scientists create edible packaging films
For two decades, scientists from Embrapa Instrumentação [Brazil] have made scientific advances to achieve a single goal: to develop packaging from food. Now, this innovative and sustainable technology is one step closer to its commercialization.
"We can use waste from the food industry to manufacture the material, which guarantees two sustainability characteristics: the use of food waste and the replacement of a synthetic container that would be discarded"Said the head of Embrapa Instrumentação, the researcher Luiz Henrique Capparelli Mattoso, who led the investigation.
At the beginning of the research, the Embrapa scientists focused on using renewable materials, studying alternatives to synthetic polymers derived from petroleum that take years to degrade once they are discarded. As a result of this, the team began to add natural fibers to synthetic plastics, generating new compounds.
And is that the material has physical characteristics similar to conventional plastics, such as strength and texture, and have the same capacity to protect food. However, the fact that it can be ingested opens a vast field to be explored by the packaging industry and everything lies in the raw material. Edible plastic is basically made from dehydrated foods mixed with a nanomaterial that has the function of joining the mixture.
In particular, natural fibers have components such as cellulose and lignin, called natural polymers because their macromolecules are similar to synthetic polymers.
Thus, sisal, cotton, jute, coconut fiber and sugarcane bagasse were some natural fibers tested that went into the composition of these materials. As a result, the compound had mechanical properties several times superior to synthetic plastics.
Mattoso said that in laboratory tests these were more resistant to traction and impact, and are up to three times more rigid than the 100% of synthetic polymers.
But that is not all, as this research opened an opportunity for the use of waste from the processing industries.
"To our surprise, the waste collected in the processing industries, such as natural fiber powder, had the same characteristics as the whole fiber"He said.
This, given that these residues have the same quality as all natural fiber, so Mattoso believes that it can generate a new market from the use of industrial waste from the processing of sisal, jute, cotton and cane. sugar.
When researchers focused on developing edible containers, they had to incorporate the highest standards of safety and hygiene in the manufacturing process. In that sense, the researchers conducted tests by adding chitosan, a polysaccharide that forms the shell of crabs, a natural molecule that has bactericidal properties that can increase the shelf life of food.
"The biggest challenge of this work was to find the optimal formulation, the ingredients of the recipe and the proportions so that the material had the characteristics that we needed"Said the materials engineer, José Manoel Marconcini, researcher at Embrapa, who also participated in the work.
Marconcini explained that the foods used as raw material go through the lyophilization process, which results in a completely dehydrated food with the advantage of maintaining its nutritional properties. This process can be applied to many different foods, such as fruits, vegetables and even some types of spices, which explains the great diversity of edible raw materials, which could print their flavor and color in the containers.
In this way, the innovative development could take advantage of both the waste of the perishable industry, processed products and the growing sector of prepared food. And is that among the waste of the food industry there are many vegetables that are not marketed simply for not having good appearance, despite being in cool conditions.
"These vegetables can be raw material for edible containers"Said the specialist who already foresees alliances between companies in the sector so that the results obtained in the laboratory are developed as a commercial product.
-The second stage of the research sought to develop a material made entirely from renewable sources, without the addition of petroleum-based plastics. Starch, polysaccharides, cellulose derivatives and proteins were tested to generate new materials.
-Before arriving to the edible plastic, the research team also developed biodegradable polymers. Motivated by the demand of containers that were absorbed by the environment in a short time, the researchers were able to obtain plastics from natural materials with this characteristic.
Source. Fruit portal
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