The recycled bioplastic is suitable for all common PLA applications, because the quality and properties are identical to those of ‘virgin’ PLA. However, according to François de Bie, it is ideal for dry and organic food packaging, flexible packaging and food service items: “It is these applications where normal mechanical recycled materials pose problems because they come into contact with food.”
Production in Europe
At the end of September, TotalCorbion announced its intention to build a large European PLA plant in Grandpuits, France, where a Total chemical site is already located, in addition to its current production facility in Thailand. It is also expected to produce rPLA. “The part of the plant that does the chemical recycling is actually an integrated part of the overall plant design,” says De Bie. “That is another advantage of our approach: we don’t need to build a separate operational unit for chemical recycling. This reduces investment cost and time and also lowers operational costs. The equipment can also be used to reprocess our internally rejected PLA.”
According to De Bie, the chemical recycling process is straightforward and therefore very sustainable: “We will only use PLA (which is naturally biobased) as the feedstock for the chemical recycling process. It is very somple to break down PLA to the monomer: we add water and heat to PLA and it will hydrolyze into lactic acid. Then we can use the existing PLA production infrastructure to turn this lactic acid back into PLA again.”
The chemically recycled PLA will be commercially available in the first quarter of 2021. According to De Bie, there is already great interest from the market. In the beginning, however, the supply will still be limited, so that it will sell at a premium price compared to regular PLA.
EFIB is the leading European conference for industrial biotechnology, which took place digitally last week. Next year, EFIB 2021 is expected to take place physically again, on October 6-7 in Vienna, Austria. For more information, see the EFIB website.
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