Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in the US are working to develop environmentally friendly plastics, which can literally disappear within four months of being discarded.
What the research team is constructing is a new breed of biodegradable and bioavailable plastics in an effort to reduce the tons of plastic waste that ends up in America's landfills each year.
Bioavailable plastics contain substances that can be absorbed by living systems during their normal physiological functions.
By combining and modifying a variety of bio-based, oil-based and natural polymers, the team seeks to create optimal blends that can be used to make agricultural films, bottles, biomedical and drug delivery devices, and more.
Working under the direction of Dr. K.B. Lee, professor of chemical engineering at Missouri S and T, the team is trying to improve the properties of the biodegradable plastics for real-life products.
Although companies already sell biodegradable polymers, the products are often expensive, of poor quality or developed for specific applications.
That's why the team is investigating how bio-based fillers, such as starch and fibers, can be included to reduce the cost in a variety of commercial applications.
The group is also interested in incorporating glycerol - a major byproduct of the biodiesel process - in the new plastics.
Some of the group's new polymers incorporate renewable resources, such as polylactic acid, which is created by fermenting starch.
The group is interested in renewable resources because their research and development efforts are also focused on developing efficient and cost-effective biodiesel and corn ethanol processes.
According to Mahin Shahlari, a chemical engineering student at Missouri S and T, "We are not just molding and extruding commercially available biodegrable resins. We also are incorporating nanotechnology, supercritical fluid technology and graft copolymer compatibilization."