Modern packaging must do much more than simply meet the specific requirements for transport, storage and presentation: it must also be sustainable. But what does sustainable really mean? It means that the material must be environmentally friendly and made from renewable resources, be sturdy enough to enable re-use and be easy to recycle when it comes to the end of its useful life. For many years, a research group at the University of Göttingen has put their energy and expertise into investigating manufacturing processes for products made of popcorn. These products have the potential to be environmentally friendly alternatives to polystyrene or plastic. The University has now signed a licence agreement with the company Nordgetreide for the commercial use of the process and products for the packaging sector.
The packaging industry is still the biggest purchaser of plastic products, accounting for almost 40 per cent. However, large producers and retail chains have long since begun to rethink their packaging policies and aim for more recycling. The research group Chemie und Verfahrenstechnik von Verbundwerkstoffen (chemistry and process engineering of composite materials) at the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at Göttingen University has now succeeded in developing a novel process, based on its many years of experience in the field of renewable raw materials. The results are that three-dimensional moulded forms can be produced from "granulated" popcorn. The great advantage of this granular material is that it comes from renewable biological sources, is environmentally friendly and sustainable. It is therefore an excellent alternative to the polystyrene products used previously.
"This new process, based on technology developed in the plastic industry, enables the production of a wide range of moulded parts," explains the head of the research group, Professor Alireza Kharazipour. "This is particularly important when considering packaging because it ensures that products are transported safely which minimises waste. And this has all been achieved using a material that will even be biodegradable afterwards." In addition, the new popcorn products have water-repellent properties, which opens up new avenues for future applications.
Stefan Schult, Managing Director of Nordgetreide, which holds an exclusive licence, adds: "Each and every day we pollute our Earth with an ever increasing amount of plastic waste that will be a burden on our eco-system for thousands of years. Our popcorn packaging is a great sustainable alternative to polystyrene which is derived from petroleum. The plant-based packaging is made from the inedible by-products of Cornflakes production and can actually be composted after use without any residue."
The licence agreement between the University and Nordgetreide was brokered by MBM ScienceBridge GmbH, a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Göttingen Public Law Foundation. The agency acts for a total of nine universities and scientific institutions in Lower Saxony. MBM ScienceBridge examines scientific inventions for the possibility of a patent application and for economic potential. It then takes care of worldwide marketing, as well as negotiation, support and monitoring of licensing agreements. The current portfolio includes projects in biomedicine, medical technology, measurement technology, chemistry, physics, forestry and agricultural sciences.