Seeking new applications for biobased materials, Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research is working with thermoplastic starch and polyethylene to develop an innovative industrial film solution to be used in food packaging.

By blending the materials, researchers hope to improve the barrier properties of a plastic film—leveraging the water resistance of polyethylene with the good oxygen barrier properties of starch. In doing this, they anticipate developing a sustainable film solution that can be produced from renewable raw materials like potatoes and save money in the production process.

The combination of these materials is currently not used for the production of films, but researchers believe there is potential in this space as biobased films should eventually replace the existing petroleum-made films.

Project leader Frans Kappen from Wageningen says the study seeks to answer three questions. “First, we want to know what the most important factors are to make a good blend. The flow properties of both components must be coordinated,” Kappen says. “Next, we want to develop concepts to reduce the moisture sensitivity of this type of blends. And finally, we want to ensure that the different components in the blend have a good cohesion with each other. We must solve these research questions in order to ensure that the film forms the desired barrier to both water and oxygen, that the film is strong enough and that it doesn’t delaminate.”

The project is part of the Biobased Performance Materials research program, which seeks to develop high-quality materials from biomass as these materials continue to play a larger role in the packaging industry. Wageningen UR is working with potato starch and protein cooperative Avebe and chemical company Sabic on this project.