Preoccupied as you may have been lately by high resin prices, a stagnating economy, overseas competitors, hurricane disruptions, and the credit crunch, not to mention the chaos on Wall Street, you may not have noticed something new and different sprouting up all around you, so to speak.

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Bacteria with globules of PHA biopolymer. (Photo: Metabolix)

Preoccupied as you may have been lately by high resin prices, a stagnating economy, overseas competitors, hurricane disruptions, and the credit crunch, not to mention the chaos on Wall Street, you may not have noticed something new and different sprouting up all around you, so to speak. New biopolymers are proliferating like crazy. Our feature story on p. 66 shows that even the single most popular biopolymer—polylactic acid, or PLA—is dividing into sub-species of stereo-isomers and copolymers, not to mention new families of “engineering” alloys with conventional polymers. Before long, you’ll be seeing bio-derived polyethylene and polyproplylene.

Fortunately, efforts are being made to catalog and organize this fast-growing new polymer ecosystem. The University of Applied Science in Hannover, Germany, supported by the German Agency for Renewable Resources, commissioned M-Base Engineering + Software of Aachen, Germany, to compile a global Biopolymer Database. So far, M-Base has collected data on more than 300 materials from 60 suppliers (who knew?) on every continent (yes, even Australia).

Now, through our partnership with M-Base, we are introducing the Biopolymer Database as a separate section of our new Plaspec Global materials database. (It will be part of the free Basic subscription.) A word of caution: the Biopolymers Database reflects the inconsistent terminology used today to describe this emerging field. It includes materials that are only partly derived from renewable resources. It contains some that are biodegradable but not bio-derived. A few are sold as film or sheet, not pellets, and a few are actually additives or masterbatches for modifying bioresins. The additives themselves may be neither bioderived nor biodegradable. Also the materials were tested according to different standards, so the data may not be directly comparable.

Not only will we keep adding to the Biopolymer Database, but the Univ. of Applied Science and M-Base are now testing these biopolymer materials according to CAMPUS protocols. Consistent test methods will yield truly comparable materials properties—something that cannot be assumed at present. This will be an important step forward for industry acceptance of these new plastics.