In Canada, a project aimed at developing biodegradable plastics from cornstarch has been awarded $1 million in government funds. Western Economic Diversification Canada is providing the cash to University of Lethbridge and Flexahopper Plastics Ltd., which are working at the U of L’s Green Polymer and Technology Centre.
Dr. Paul Hazendonk, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the U of L, tells Lethbridge News Now that while starch-based plastics would address the problem of marine litter from ubiquitous petroleum-based polyethylene, such biodegradable alternatives are not “amenable” to current manufacturing efforts. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he added. “For the polyethylene this took decades to develop, and it’s going to take, probably, decades to develop as well for polylactic acid.”
The partnership will also look at how to make starch-based bioplastics cheaper to better compete with conventional plastics made from oil. “In the long-term arc, the cost of the fossil fuel inputs are going to rise,” Hazendonk says. “I mean, oil and gas prices are unstable, but they are in an upward arc, if you look back 20, 30 years. And so, by the time this technology is going to mature, I don’t think the price differential will be that large, if at all, maybe the actual biological feedstocks could be significantly cheaper.”