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Pesquisa Fapesp 20 Years

Partnerships for innovation

PESQUISA FAPESP has extensively covered developments and research in bioplastics

Three previous articles about new types of bioplastics

Although relatively few biopolymers are currently manufactured in Brazil at commercial scale—a prominent example being the green plastic produced at Braskem (see issues no. 142, 177, and 197)—research and development in this field has yielded promising findings that could in the future enable the manufacturer of alternatives to conventional polymers at scale.

Last year, QGP Tanquímica, a chemicals company in Laranjal Paulista (SP), and the Instrumentation chapter of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), in São Carlos, São Paulo State, launched a new nanoemulsion—a thin edible coating made of carnauba wax—that can be applied on fruits such as oranges and papayas to increase shelf life. “The product was developed in an open innovation project that also involved UFSCar,” says José Manoel Marconcini, head of research and development at EMBRAPA’s Instrumentation chapter. “The nanoemulsion is already commercially available from the manufacturer.”

This is just one example of many novel bioplastics that Pesquisa FAPESP has covered over the years. An article in 2016 reported on research into edible films at EMBRAPA and other institutions (see issue no. 242), and potential applications for edible bioplastics made from fresh food products or byproducts from juice production and other industrial processes.

The development of a biodegradable plastic product, called Biocycle, was featured in an article in 2012 (see the FAPESP 50 Years special). The manufacturer, PHB Industrial, had announced plans to build a factory to commercially produce the polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) product, developed with funding from programs such as the Federal Government’s Program for Scientific and Technological Development Support (PADCT) and FAPESP’s Research for Innovation in Small Businesses program (RISB, or PIPE in the Portuguese acronym).

While the company has since changed its plans, the research team that created the product is still active and is now working on new applications for polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biopolymers produced by the natural metabolism of several bacterial species.

“We are currently developing a similar plastic material that is biodegradable and biocompatible, in other words, that will not be rejected by the body,” says biochemist Luiziana Ferreira da Silva, a professor at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of São Paulo (USP) and a member of the scientific committee of the International Symposium on Biopolymers (ISBP). “We plan to use it to make nanoparticles out of anti-cancer drugs, which we will begin testing soon in Germany.”

Another biocompatible bioplastic was presented to readers in a 2012 issue of Pesquisa FAPESP, in an article about an acai-based polymer developed by researchers at the Biomanufacturing Institute (BIOFABRIS), then one of the Brazilian National Institutes for Science and Technology (INCTs), hosted at the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) (see issue no. 196). The researchers believed the material, which is similar in properties to fossil-based polyurethane, could be an alternative material for making prostheses or bone implants.

A 2011 article covered a research project at UFSCar that created a rigid biodegradable plastic made from corn starch and vegetable residues—such as cassava root husks, coconut fiber, and sawdust—for the production of seedling containers for reforestation applications. The project was developed as part of an effort by Corn Products Brazil and Basf to find new applications for another biodegradable plastic already on the market (see issue no. 179).