On Monday, 24 February, the Executive Board of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS/HvA) received the very first table made of 100% bioplastic. Entirely comprised of plant-based ingredients, the bioplastic used in the production of the table – which was commissioned by the UvA and created by AUAS/HvA researchers – represents a milestone in sustainable technology, as it can be mass produced without adding to the ‘plastic soup’ currently clogging up our oceans.
Professor Gadi Rothenberg and Dr Albert Alberts, two chemistry researchers at the UvA, discovered the 100% bioplastic by chance during trials to develop biofuel. It was a ‘Eureka!’ moment, because until now only a small percentage of bioplastic could be recycled (such as PET30 and PLA). This new kind of bioplastic consists of glycerol and citric acid, and is therefore completely plant-based and biodegradable. Moreover, it is soluble in water, which is crucial considering that regular plastics take centuries to dissolve.
‘There is a good chance that the bioplastic will be mass produced soon,’ says Rothenberg. ‘We've tested the material in industrial settings, and several companies are already interested in it.’
The AUAS/HvA is now researching various practical applications for the bioplastic, so that it can be used in consumer products. Rogier ten Kate, lecturer and researcher in Product Design at the AUAS/HvA, made the table in a large oven specially purchased for the job. Ten Kate did this in partnership with researcher Martijn Swinkels and student Merel Roozendaal. Ten Kate: ‘In the oven, the material binds to other materials such as glass and stainless steel, like a kind of glue. This is very useful, as it enables us to make all sorts of products.’ In addition to his latest creation, Ten Kate has previously also made insulating foam out of bioplastic and predicts that other items such as lamps, dishes and mattresses will soon follow.
The exact formula for the 100% bioplastic will remain secret, as the UvA has patents on it. The bioplastic could be revolutionary in an era where products are disposed of after just a few years. With this invention, our culture of disposable products could become less damaging.
Prof. Gadi Rothenberg and Dr Albert Alberts are chemists based at the UvA's Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS). This research is being carried out as part of the Sustainable Chemistry research priority area. The AUAS/HvA is working on the application of bioplastic through its CleanTech research programme, which focuses on sustainable technologies.