Purac, a Dutch Lactide producer with 80 years of experience in Lactic Acid production, has earned the reputation of a reliable, expert partner with a high quality, innovative product portfolio. Over the last decade, their R&D efforts have focused on the development of high quality Lactides for PLA (Poly Lactic Acid). This has resulted in the launch of their PURALACT® product line; enabling PLA homopolymers with performance qualities to rival some of the most established and trusted plastics in use today.
PLA Reaching Increasingly High Performance Levels
The performance properties of today’s commercially available PLA varies greatly, and for certain applications such as disposables, low heat applications and some forms of packaging, this was not a critical hurdle. However, in order to offer biobased PLA as a viable option for durable or high heat applications, performance had to be improved and consistently reliable. “While we were encouraged by the increased production of biobased disposables across the globe, we felt that it was time for brand owners and producers to recognize the value of biobased PLA in their durable applications”, says François de Bie, Marketing Director at Purac Bioplastics. “For example, automotive components, carpets, all types of demanding consumer and lifestyle products”.
For Purac, the challenge was clear. “We needed to deliver a new level of PLA performance, which for us started with the development of stereochemically pure L and D Lactide. The resulting PLA homopolymers were far more resistant to high temperatures and impact, which are both key requirements for durable applications”, explains François. It is this innovative achievement that Purac demonstrates with their biobased PLA coffee cups, which hold boiling water without any form of distortion. “We have shown how biobased PLA can now be used in high heat applications, such as cups in hot drink vending machines for example. But more significantly, this technology allows PLA to be used in durable applications such as the dashboard in your car or your mobile phone housing”, François continues. “The possibilities are so broad that we envisage a future where we could all be surrounded by biobased PLA articles: from carpets and children’s toys, to sportswear and coffee machines”.
Sustainability is at the core of Purac’s business strategy, and they are pleased with the biobased shift that influential NGOs, legislative change and consumer behavior are encouraging within the plastics industry. However, with the broad range of alternatives available, and the sometimes misleading and vague claims being publicized, it is not an easy feat to distinguish the truly sustainable bioplastic options from the green washing marketing stories easy feat to distinguish the truly sustainable bioplastic options from the green washing marketing stories.
Purac has a clear standpoint as far as the definition of a sustainable bioplastic is concerned: that it must be biobased (made from sustainable/renewable resources) and may be recyclable or compostable, depending on which end of life option is most effective at minimizing the environmental impact. For Purac, this rules out oxo-degradable plastics, the majority of which are made from petrochemical raw materials which are by definition not sustainable. “A truly sustainable solution is one which is made of renewable raw materials which can then be recycled into new, equally valuable applications”, explains François. “This might sound pretty straightforward, but you’d be surprised at what is currently being labeled as ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’ or ‘green’ these days. For instance, oxo-degradable materials do not return back to the basic CO2 and water building blocks, but they fragment into tiny pieces of plastic. Although we may not be able to see them, these small pieces of plastic still pollute the environment and can even end up in our food chain.”
At Purac, this challenge is seen as an important contributor to the successful development of the bioplastics market as a whole. “It’s up to us to educate people on the sustainability of bioplastics today. In this regard, PLA is a truly sustainable choice, and we have the official certifications and scientific analyses on hand to back this up.” As part of their sustainable sourcing initiative, Purac is a member of Bonsucro and SEDEX. They are also actively involved in various fundamental research and development programs to develop cellulose-based, non-food raw materials into a sustainable feedstock for PLA.
Purac are continuously exploring new application areas for high performance PLA and are in collaboration with a number of co-development partners.