Biocampus, the research wing attached to Mar Athanasios College for Advanced Studies Thiruvalla (Macfast), has developed bioplastics, or reinforced plastics, which is claimed to be biodegradable to a large extent and cheaper to produce.
Powdered cellulose obtained from natural fibres such as jute and water hyacinth is used as reinforcement in polymers to make the product, according to C. Balagopalan, Resident Dean and Director of Research at Macfast School of Biosciences. The organic content far exceeds the inorganic one. The product could be used to make buckets, mugs, dashboards, chairs, tables, cutlery, bathroom doors, etc. Mr. Balagopalan said.
“The rationale behind the use of cellulose as reinforcement in polymers is that, upon disposal, the cellulose molecules will be consumed by microbes. The material shows improved tensile strength, elongation, and flexural strength,” he added.
Natural cellulose-based fibres were gaining importance for their varied applications in engineering, construction, and automobile sector, where lightweight was the norm. “The main constituent of natural fibre is cellulose. Hydrogen bonding between cellulose molecules provides the necessary strength and stiffness to the fibres.”
Displaying the cloth hangers, made on an experimental basis of bioplastics, Dr. Balagopalan said the product was well appreciated by experts at the Central Institute of Plastic Technology, Hyderabad, where the moulding of bioplastics was done. He said the process was being patented.
There was much demand for environmentally friendlier products and means to remove hazardous materials from residential and workplace environment. Poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) and formaldehyde-based laminate work surfaces and components were now being discarded due to their toxic nature. Bioplastics could solve the problem to an extent.
Dr. Balagopalan said a biodegradable polymeric material, envisaged by the present invention, could be used alone or with inorganic substances to form a composite with improved physical properties and mechanical strength for products. The process was relatively cheaper when compared to various methods, he added.
The technology was developed with financial support of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.