Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot and her colleagues first extract cellulose from banana plant pseudostems—a waste product of banana cultivation that, until now, was just discarded.
“We are able to modify the surface chemistry of this extracted compound so that we can develop different types of grades of the bioplastic,” Professor Arcot tells Brisbane Times. These grades include strong, flexible, or hydrophobic materials. Ascot’s team has also shown that the resulting bioplastic can be recycled three times.
Pseudostem is a good cellulose source because it contains large amounts and is widely available, with several banana harvests annually. Most of Australia’s bananas are grown in Queensland.
“There is huge promise here for the banana industry to use that waste; at the moment I believe the stems are cut up and thrown away,” Arcot adds. “Farmers could potentially have an on-farm drier or a mill and make the dried powder from the pseudostems available as a value-add–if that powder was available in commercial quantities there would be a lot of interest from packaging companies.”