Biodegradable bio-based plastics toward climate change mitigation

Alcina M. M. B. Morais, Rui M. S. C. Morais*, David Drew, Ildar Mustakhimov , Maximilian Lackner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

World society relies quite strongly on the use of fossil-based conventional plastics. Low cost and versatility paved the way for a wide range of applications. The most used plastics in daily life have been polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), poly (ethylene terephthalate) (PET), and poly (vinyl chloride) (PVC), which, despite advances in processing and manufacturing, generate two major problems: the first one concerns the use of non-renewable resources to obtain the raw materials, and the second one is related with the large amount of waste generated since the disposal methods are still somewhat limited. As the greatest environmental impacts of fossil-based plastics are focused on the phases of obtaining the raw materials and disposal, the use of renewable, biodegradable bio-based plastics brings, as a gain for the environment and the whole society, the reduction of the volume of the plastic waste present, coupled with a reduction in resource consumption. Despite the great contribution that bio-based plastics can make to the environment since they are obtained from renewable biological sources and can be biodegradable, there are certain limitations, like unavailability of biomass, difficulties in cultivation, and high economic costs, which still need to be overcome. A common raw material is starch, which is hydrolyzed to sugar and fermented, e.g., to lactic acid, to make polylactic acid (PLA). Other common biopolymers are thermoplastic starch (TPS) and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). Microalgae and seaweed, as a source of biopolymers, can represent an alternative due to their high yields and ability to grow in a wide range of environments. Also, microalgae and seaweed are economical and developments in this field of research have shown to be increasingly promising. Although algae-based plastics are at a very early stage of development, once they will have been commercialized, they are likely to find applications in a wide industrial range, such as food packaging and medicine storage. Another emerging raw material for bioplastics, fossil-based, is methane, for which different sources exist. Methane from natural gas is already used to produce ethylene and propylene in thermocatalytic processes, and it can also be converted by methanotrophic bacteria, to yield, e.g., the biodegradable materials like PHB. Bio-based polymers would be more eco-friendly choice, as they can be made from renewable carbon sources and may contribute to climate change mitigation. Bioplastics might be an alternative to conventional fossil-based plastics, particularly when they can be recycled.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of climate change mitigation and adaptation
EditorsMaximilian Lackner , Baharak Sajjadi , Wei-Yin Chen
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherSpringer New York
Pages1-43
Number of pages43
ISBN (Print)9781461464310
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Bioplastics
  • Climate change mitigation
  • Bio-based plastics
  • Environment
  • Biopolymers
  • Green polymers
  • Biodegradation
  • Microalgae

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