A “Material Experience” in the Age of Consumption: Bioplarch

Longread19 Apr 2016

What is the alternative to petroleum plastics? Find out about the material of the future! An article by Esen Gökçe Özdamar, Ahmet Bal

Plastics have played a major role in our age of consumption with their long-lasting, low cost, and versatility features and can be accessed in a widerange of applications from packaging to structural and building materials, and from transportation to everyday consumer products (Stevens, 2002, 4, Pilla, 2011, xxi). One of the reasons of this versatility is related to us being consumer oriented societies and more mobile, we have become depended on plastic food packages. As Barthes mentioned, plastic “as in the essence the stuff of alchemy” is in “an infinite transformation; which makes it a miraculous substance: a miracle is always a sudden transformation of nature”, (Barthes, 1957, 97). 
Today, global plastics production in the world is 299 million tonnes in 2013 rising with a continuous growth (Plastics Europe (a), 2016). Conversely to their widespan of availability, plastics have left negative carbon footprint on the environment. They take million of years to degrade and when they end-up in landfills they also find their way to fresh water lakes, rivers and oceans creating environmental and health problems. The increase in synthetic plastics production have lead to higher energy consumption and green-house gas emissions together with release of hazardous chemicals (Muneer, 2014). And currently landfill and incineration are seen as the only realistic alternatives (Stevens, 2002, 159). 
Therefore, there is a need to develop non-petroleum-based and sustainable feed stocks, bio-based and biodegradable plastics (Pilla, 2011, xxi). Conversely to the petroleum plastics, bio-based plastics or bioplastics are sustainable, largely biodegradable and biocompatible. They reduce our dependency on depleting fossil fuels and are C02 neutral (Pilla, 2011, xxi).
On the other hand, the cost of commercial manufacturing is expensive and “bio-based plastics currently make up an insignificant portion of total worldproduction of plastics”. (Plastics Europe (b),2016). Some of the active market areas for bioplastics today are mainly disposable packaging materials, and on the long-term market areas can be given as garbage bags and compost bags, single use or limited use disposable packaging materials, such as recyclable and compostable bottles, loose fill packaging, fast food industry, agricultural products, coatings (especially for paper products). From all, food packaging has been the focus “and it is likely to be one of the most quickly developed markets for bioplastics” (Stevens, 2002, 149).Besides, “There are two major advantages of biobased plastic products compared to their conventionalversions: they save fossil resources by using biomass which regenerates (annually) and providing the unique potential of carbon neutrality” (EuropeanBioplastics (a), 2016). They are biobased, biodegradable, or both. “With acurrent global market share of almost one percent, they represent an economically innovative sector that grows between 20 and 100 percent per year. Biobased plastics contribute significantly to the reduction of dependency on fossil feedstock and can make profound contributions to reducing CO2 emissions due to a reduced or even negativecarbon footprint” (European Bioplastics (b), 2016).

About Bioplarch

Our project started from a need to make our own accessories that were durable, environment-friendly and easy to manufacture. After experimenting with various materials and making organic molds, we made initial cooking tests and iterative prototypes to understand material changes. The aim of the project is to understand whether starch based bioplastic can be used as an architectural material both as a facade material and as an interior space furnishing and whether it can function better when blended with fibers. We also blended edible bioplastic with natural fibers; such as pellet (compressed agglomerates; in our case canola and sunflower waste) and lignin in order to improve moisture susceptibility and strength of bioplastic natural and synthetic fibers. Bioplarch derives on understanding whether starch based bioplastic can be used as an architectural material both as a facade material and as an interior space furnishing and whether it can be used combined with inorganic materials. Bioplastic is produced from potato starch. Firstly as a sheet and secondly as a three-dimensional material. Many different types of starch based bioplastic (bare starch based bioplastic, starch based bioplastic with aggregate, starch based bioplastic with silica fume, starch based bioplastic with silica fume and polyolefin fibre) are produced as a surface or a cube. Moreover, cooking, molding and drying phases of specimens are observed within the production stages of bioplastic. Compressive strength is determined for three-dimensional cube specimen and it is under testing process for durability and the understanding of material behaviour under humid and different conditions. 

The basic formula of a bioplastic is...

Biopolymer(s) + plasticizer(s)+other additive(s) = BIOPLASTIC (Stevens, 2002, 105). The ingredients for bioplastic are gelatin (agricultural protein derived from animals), starch (agricultural polysaccharide derived from plants and an important feedstock for bioplastics - can be derived from crops such as wheat, corn, potato, soy, andstarch), agar, and sorbitol (3g=1 tsp, water: 120ml=1/2 cup), glycerol (also called glycerin - makes a very useful plasticizer). Glycerol is produced by the fermentation of sugar, or from vegetable and animal oils and fats as aby-product in the manufacture of soaps and fatty acids (3g= 24 ml=1/2 tsp).  These ingredients are heated to just below boiling point (95C) on a hot plate or baked (Stevens, 2002, 166).
Major starch resources include potato, corn, rice, wheat and soy. Bioplarch currently works with potato starch, a biodegradable polymer. Bio degradable polymers such as potato starch hast he potential to “replace synthetic polymers for limited time applications, such as packaging and disposable cutlery”. “Starch is stored in plants in the form of semi-crystalline granules composed of two glucose polymers, amylose andamylopectin, having specific structures e.g. straight chains for amylose and highly branched chains for amylopectin” (Muneer, 2014, 5-6). As Muneer explains, “when producing starch based materials, heating, mixing and shear stress contribute to the breakdown of the starch granules, making it a thermoplastics material with interesting tensile properties (modulus and strength) and gas barrier properties” (Muneer, 2014, 6). Bioplastics can be derived from starch, as well as polyactic acid (PLA: a starch derived from corn), poly-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), soy based plastics, cellulose polyesters, vegetable oil derived, poly (trimethylene terephthalate), biopolyethylene etc. (Pilla, 2011, 2) and also from banana peels (designed by Elif Bilgin), shrimp shells and so forth. The next generation of bioplastics is derived from carbon dioxide.The results obtained from our recent experiments show that bioplastics can be used as construction materials in the form of three dimensional elements under available conditions. However, durability, strength conditions, moist susceptibility and life cycle of the material need to be evaluated within further research
As Stevens mentions, “current age of plastics is a paradigm shift” (Stevens, 2002, 158). 
Regarding our over engineered plastics in order to make strength and durable materials for everyday use, environmental recycling consideration has been a less minor issue. 
Therefore, as a new paradigm, “material experience” as defined by Karana (Karana et al, 2014) can enable negotiating not only the function and aesthetics of the material as well as their eco attributes, but also the meaning of use value of such an eco-friendly material. Whether bioplastic can find a way into “niche” market (Stevens, 2002,159) or not, material experience of such vegetable based material production can help minimize global environmental problems caused by the increasing use of fossil resources. As Stevens summarizes: “We can take nature’s building materials and use them for our purposes, without taking them out of nature’s cycles. We can be borrowers, not consumers, so that the process can continue indefinitely” (Stevens, 2002, 159).
Bioplarch is a scientific research project currently under process and conducted by Esen Gökçe Özdamar with researchers Ahmet Bal (Construction Engineerimg), Şermin Şentürk (Architecturestudent), supervised by Assoc. Prof. Murat Ateş (Chemistry) in Namık Kemal University and supported by Research Fund of the Namık Kemal University. Project Number: NKUBAP.08.GA.16.050.

Barthes, R. 1991. Mythologies (originally 1957), The Noonday Press, New York Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
European Bioplastics (a), 2016. Available at: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/bioplastics/ (Accessed January 10, 2016).
European Bioplastics (b), 2016.Available at: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/publications/EUBP_Considerations_Circular_Economy_Proposal_2015.pdf, (Accessed January 10, 2016).
Karana, E., Pedgley, O., and Rognol, V. 2014. Materials Experience: fundamentals of materials and design, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Muneer, F, 2014. Bioplastics from natural polymers, Introductory paper at the Faculty of Landscape Architecture, Horticulture and Crop Production Sciences 2014:4, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp.
Pilla, S. (ed.), 2011, Handbook of Bioplastics and Biocomposites Engineering Applications, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; Salem, Mass.: Scrivener Pub.
Plastics Europe(a), 2016. Available at: http://www.plasticseurope.org/documents/document/20150227150049-final_plastics_the_facts_2014_2015_260215.pdf (Accessed January 10, 2016).
Plastics Europe(b), 2016. Available at: http://www.plasticseurope.org/what-is-plastic/types-of-plastics-11148/bio-based-plastics/history.aspx (Accessed January 10, 2016).
Stevens,E. S., 2002. Green Plastics: An Introduction to the New Science ofBiodegradable Plastics, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.