Will Sargassum Become the New Plastic?

sargassum horneri

Plastic materials using sargassum horneri would have high economic efficiency in South Korea. Photo: Wikimedia/Totti

S​outh Korea has launched a state project to develop biodegradable marine bioplastic materials using seaweed such as sargassum horneri, a species of brown macroalgae called “devil weed” from China that damages sea farms almost every year.

Lim Chang-won reports in the AJU Business Daily that the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said it would develop eco-friendly plastic materials based on brown algae by 2026, in cooperation with Jung Gyoo-yeol, a professor of chemical engineering at Pohang University of Science and Technology.

The Ministry anticipates “a great industrial ripple effect,” saying that plastic materials using sargassum horneri as well as seaweed and kelp by-products would have high economic efficiency and an environmental protection effect. “It is an international trend to seek solutions to environmental pollution using marine biomass,” Jung Jae-kwan, a Ministry official in charge of marine and fishery life resources, said in a statement on June 7.

Based on strains that do not require a separate pretreatment process, the ministry said its project is aimed at developing technologies for producing itaconic acid, 3-Hydroxypropionic acid, and lactic acid, which are bioplastic materials with high industrial utilization.

Iaconic acid is primarily used as a co-monomer in the production of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and acrylate latexes with applications in the paper and architectural coating industry. 3-Hydroxypropionic acid is used in the industrial production of various chemicals such as acrylates. Lactic acid is used as a synthetic intermediate in many organic synthesis industries and in various biochemical industries.

The ministry said that researchers would develop monomer blending technology to have the properties of plastics required for each use. This will compensate for the shortcomings of eco-friendly plastics that have degraded properties compared to petroleum-based plastic products.

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