India’s NIOT Develops Bioplastic from Marine Seaweed

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NIOT bioplastic

The bioplastic film made by India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology uses marine seaweed and polyethylene glycol (PEG)-3000. Graphic: India Science Wire

India Science Wire reports that scientists at India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) have developed a bioplastic film using marine seaweed and polyethylene glycol (PEG)-3000. The researchers feel that this could be a game-changer in the plastics industry and have a huge impact on limiting the use of non-biodegradable plastics.

Bioplastic films safely break down in the environment without leaving any toxicity, and their physical and mechanical properties meet those of conventional plastics.

Scientists have been looking for viable plastic alternatives without hampering the land-based edible plants used for human consumption. They have recently directed their research toward marine biomass as an alternative to producing biodegradable plastics more sustainably. With this approach biomass used for feedstocks, such as corn, are not disturbed.

Red Algae to the Rescue

Red algae Kappaphycus alvarezii is a seaweed proven to be an important commercial source of carrageenans and other products that have a wide range of industrial applications. These algae are highly colloidal and are inexpensive to grow within a short cultivation time (45 days) by just using sunlight. There is no need for freshwater or chemicals to grow them successfully. They are also potential sources of polymers – similar to the terrestrial plant-based polymers that are used to manufacture food packaging and carry bags – which facilitate good oxygen and moisture permeability. 

Good oxygen and moisture permeability are two essential parameters for the packaging of fresh produce to extend their shelf life. NIOT scientists suggest that red seaweed could be our environmental savior when it comes to replacing harmful plastics.

The scientists utilized a macro-algae Kappaphycus alvarezii (whole seaweed) which they cultivated in the Gulf of Mannar region for bioplastic film production with the plasticizer polyethylene glycol (PEG)-3000 to achieve higher tensile strength. PEG is a non-toxic and eco-friendly polymer, mainly used to increase the thermos-plasticity of the polymer used in the medicinal fields to make creams and dispersing agents.

The result of the NIOT study revealed that bioplastic polymers biodegrade naturally in a short time without producing any toxic wastes. They can also be disposed of through an ordinary food waste collection mechanism.

This study was led by Dr. Muthiyal Prabakaran Sudhakar, Mr. Dhassiah Magesh Peter and Dr. Gopal Dharani from Ocean Science and Technology for Islands, Marine Biotechnology, NIOT, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India, Chennai. It was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

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