Creating plastic from beef: research breakthrough in Canada

James Nason, 15/08/2011

Beef products could soon be value-added into heavy duty plastics for a range of commercial uses thanks to innovative research underway in Canada.

Scientists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton say they have devised and patented a thermal process that allows them to turn protein from bovine by-products into plastics.

The university is already discussing possible commercial applications with Government, industry and manufacturers, which could soon see beef-based plastics used in various products from car parts to CD cases.

The breakthrough provides the beef industry with a potentially important value adding alternative, and also presents the plastics industry with a potential way to boost the natural and renewable content of its materials.

University of Alberta associate professor David Bressler unveiled the research on the university’s website on Friday.

The research project was motivated by a desire to find new value-adding options for the “throwaway parts” of beef carcasses that were sidelined from the value-added production process after bovine spongiform encephalopathy devastated the Canadian cattle industry in 2003.

The university said key aims of the research were to divert tonnes of protein waste from landfills across North America, shift to using renewable resources instead of petrochemicals to make plastics, and boost flagging profit levels in the cattle industry.

“If we can get more fundamental value back into the rendering process, it will help the livestock industry more than any government policy,” Associate Professor Bressler said.

The thermal process uses high temperatures to break proteins into small pieces that are then cross-linked to other protein molecules to create a network that forms a rigid structure.

The new plastics are currently being tested by The Woodbridge group, a car parts manufacturer.

Further research is also experimenting to see if the plastics can be mixed with renewable fibres such as hemp to make high-strength bio-composites for building structural supports.

The bio-friendly plastics, though still in the development stage, are poised to become an innovative addition to the manufacturing industry, Associate Professor Bressler believes.

“The plastic industry is under pressure to increase the renewable content in its products. As a result, this project offers the opportunity to do just that, and at the same time help send value back to rural Alberta and the beef sector.”

The research is supported by the Alberta Prion Research Institute, PrioNet Canada and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.



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