Danimer Scientific, a developer and manufacturer of biodegradable plastics announced this week that its PHA based product has been verified as an eco-friendly alternative to petrochemical plastics by the University of Georgia (UGA). The polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) material is a naturally occurring polyester, which can be incorporated into a flexible packaging structure and one that is certified for marine degradation. UGA’s New Materials Institute found that PHA degrades in both aerobic and anaerobic environments.
"The results of this study indicate that PHA is a dependable and biodegradable plastic for food packaging and other consumer applications," said Scott Tuten, chief marketing officer at Danimer. "Many single-use products, such as straws, are under scrutiny or even banned because of their environmental impact at the end of their lifecycle. Our team remains dedicated to helping companies find the quality, sustainable materials that fit their needs."
To determine how PHA biodegrades in a proper waste management scenario, researchers measured the gaseous carbon loss of PHA samples placed in ‘anaerobic sludge’. After 40 – 60 days of anaerobic digestion, levels were compared to those of cellulose powder in the same setting. Results suggested that the anaerobic degradation of PHA was not significantly different from that of the cellulose powder. Furthermore, the methane yields of PHA were found to be similar to existing organic food waste. This indicates that PHA could be effectively processed alongside common organic waste already in waste processing systems.
Shunli Wang, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate of the College of Engineering at UGA, advises that “it is important to have a thorough understanding of the impact that different materials will have on various environments. " This is because more and more governments and businesses are choosing to consider alternatives to traditional plastics. This goes from straws to food packaging. Wang goes on to say UGA’s “study is among the first to comprehensively examine PHA, and results show that it has a relatively fast anaerobic biodegradation rate."
The study also monitored the bio-digestive process of PHA in seawater. Researchers observed the gaseous carbon loss of Danimer’s product in ocean environments. The study found that over the course of 6 month’s the material would biodegrade successfully. This was compared to Polypropylene pellets, a traditional plastic used as the negative control in the experiment, which remained unchanged in the same conditions over the same period of time. The third and final study component identified the bacteria present when PHA degrades. In anaerobic sludge conditions, Cloacamonales and Thermotogales were the dominant bacteria. In aerobic seawater conditions, Gemmatales and Phycisphaerales were the most enriched forms of bacteria. Researchers concluded that future studies would have to include expanded microbial analysis of PHA degradation, to help guide the design of more efficient waste management systems based on the inclusion of new plastic technologies.
Danimer Scientific has maintained a strong working relationship with companies with a B2C focus. Partnerships with PepsiCo and Frito-Lay have encouraged the development and use of PHA in biodegradable resins in plastic packaging products. With the recent focus on the use of disposable plastic straws, the verification of PHA as a viable, eco-friendly alternative will further buoys the production of Daimler PHA products.
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