A process developed at the University of Waikato will allow animal waste to be turned into useful and biodegradable plastic.
The new process, developed over two years by University of Waikato chemical engineer Dr Johan Verbeek and Masters student Lisa van den Berg, can turn animal protein waste like blood meal and feathers into a biodegradable plastic using industry-standard plastic extrusion and injection moulding machinery.
For Dr Verbeek, it is highly gratifying to use low-value sustainable waste to create a high-value product that breaks down without polluting the environment. "The material we can produce has the strength of polyethylene - the plastic used in milk bottles and plastic supermarket bags - but it's fully biodegradable."
"Proteins are polymers so we know they can be turned into plastics," Dr Verbeek said. "Plant proteins successfully been used to make bioplastics, but animal protein has always ended up gumming up the extruder. The process we've developed gets round that problem. People said it couldn't be done, but we did it!"
He said a group of design students was drawing up a blueprint for a commercial-scale plant to assess the commercial viability of producing bioplastics from animal protein waste.
Dr Verbeek expected the bioplastic would be suitable for agricultural plastic sheeting, seedling trays, plant pots and even biodegradable golf tees, for which, he said there was a surprisingly high demand.
University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford said farmers faced pressure to work in an environmentally sustainable way, and this type of innovation from the university could help them. Sustainability was one of the university's main drivers, he said.
A company, Novatein, has been set up to commercialise these findings, and has already attracted a venture capital from Endeavour Capital.
Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.