5 things you didn’t know polymers

Credit: tinglee1631 / Shutterstock 

1. Bio-based polymers are generally referred to as bioplastics, which are defined as a plastic that is either bio-based, biodegradable, or both. So bioplastics are not only derived from biomass but can include fossil-based polymers, too, if they are biodegradable.

2. Most biodegradable plastics will only decompose in an industrial composting facility.

3. Coca-Cola introduced the first version of its PlantBottle, made from 30% bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET), in 2009. Standard PET, used widely in drinks bottles, pots, tubs and oven-ready trays is a combination of 32.2% monoethylene glycol (MEG) and 67.8% purified terephthalic acid (PTA).

4. Companies and research institutions are developing bio-based polymers with a variety of natural feedstocks. Lactips, a French start-up, is expecting its milk protein-based polymers to enter the laundry, water treatment and agrochemicals market in the third quarter of 2017.

5. Banana peel provides the base for polymers developed at the University of Sonora, Mexico. Strips of banana endocarp are immersed in two antioxidants and then dried, lyophilised and mixed with either citric acid or propolis, a resinous mixture produced by honey bees to create a mouldable paste. When mixed with propolis, the biopolymer is food-safe and prevents the proliferation of bacteria and fungi. The University of Strathclyde, UK, has even developed a polymer using a waste product of the seafood industry.

To find out more see page 61 of the upcoming April issue of Materials World.

My tongue piercing experience: discussing materials

After my tongue’d healed up I was able to experience the pleasure of purchasing new piercings. This is what I learned about materials (I’m not a professional so correct me if I got anything wrong)

Surgical stainless steel: It’s what you get pierced with usually. It looks flattering and shiny. The bad thing about it it’s that it’s harder than your teeth. It means that if you’re not careful enough, you can bite on the balls and chip your teeth.

Titanium: If you are allergic to nickel the piercer shouldn’t use steel. Titanium has a much lower nickel content, therefore this is the material your piercer might use to pierce you.

Bioplast: It’s a new thing on the market. Piercings made of bioplast come in many different colours. They are flexible and comfy. And if you bite on the balls they won’t ruin your teeth. It’s better to break the piercing than your teeth, right?

Acrylic: I’ve heard many bad things about it. It can harbour bacteria, cause infections, break down  and start releasing toxins. Yet, it’s one of the most popular piercing materials. Acrylic balls come in various shapes and colours and they are extremely cheap. I’d say it shouldn’t be a problem if it’s not something you wear daily. If you end up wearing acrylic, I suggest you to purchase a bar made of one of the materials above and only use balls made of acrylic.

I ordered my piercings online from Most of them are pretty cheap and there are many colours and materials that you can choose from. I got free shipping and even 15% off, which I think is a great deal.

This is my collection now. A bioplast retainer, a stainless steel piercing that I got at my local piercing studio, two acrylic-balls piercings and two bioplast piercings. One of the bioplast ones is in my tongue now and it’s super comfy!!

You can check out the whole healing process on my blog.

Take care! x
Scientists Hope To Farm The Biofuel Of The Future In The Pacific Ocean
International research labs are using seaweed to make biofuel, but little progress has been made in the U.S. Now scientists in California are developing a prototype to enable vast open-ocean farming.

The push for renewable energy in the U.S. often focuses on well-established sources of electricity: solar, wind and hydropower. Off the coast of California, a team of researchers is working on what they hope will become an energy source of the future — macroalgae, otherwise known as kelp.

The Pacific Coast is known for its vast kelp forests. It’s one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, and farming it requires no fertilizer, fresh water, pesticides, or arable land. “It can grow 2 to 3 feet per day,” says Diane Kim, one of the scientists running the kelp research project at the University of Southern California.

Kelp is transformed into biofuel by a process called thermochemical liquefaction. The kelp is dried out, and the salt is washed away. Then it’s turned into bio-oil through a high-temperature, high-pressure conversion process.

Some small companies are growing kelp as a substitute for kale in the U.S., but that’s exactly the problem – very, very few are doing it. Thus, the infrastructure and investment isn’t in place to make other products from kelp, like biofuel.

“We’re testing out a concept that would enable large-scale, open-ocean farming,” she says. “And what that would essentially do is grow enough kelp to make it economically feasible to make it cost competitive and maybe one day, provide a source of clean, sustainable, non-polluting source of energy to compete with fossil fuels.”

Twenty-five miles from downtown Los Angeles, on sunny Catalina Island, Kim and her colleagues operate a center called the Wrigley Institute of Environmental Studies. The clean, deep waters off the island provide a great environment for research.

Harvesting kelp in California for commercial purposes is not unprecedented. “They did have these large boats that gave the kelp a haircut, harvesting kelp along the California coast,” Kim explains. During World War I, kelp was used to make gunpowder. By the 1960s, a company in San Diego harvested kelp to make products like alginate, which is a solidifying agent in ice cream and cosmetics.

Here on Catalina Island, Kim and her colleagues are trying to build a machine that would raise and lower kelp beds to get sunlight in the shallow water and nutrients in the deep water. This would allow them to farm miles from shore. They call the device a “kelp elevator.”

There are real obstacles to creating large-scale kelp farms in the U.S., though.

“At the moment, they’re way behind the curve,” says University of Hawaii tenured researcher Michael Cooney of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. He says countries in Asia and Scandinavia are much farther along than the U.S.

One of the main reasons for this discrepancy is that these countries have been growing kelp for food for many years. “They already have a pre-existing infrastructure that’s pretty sophisticated for growing and harvesting,” Cooney explains. “It’s harvesting for food and other products, but a lot of that capital’s already in place. And that’s a much better starting point than small companies in the U.S. that try to go from ground zero to a transportation fuel.”

In Sweden, people have been farming seaweed for a long time. “The first thing we do with the high-quality kelp, we do it for food, actually, "says Fredrik Grondahl of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He says selling kelp for food is very profitable.

"The next part is to make feed ingredients,” Grondahl adds. “And then we are also extracting polymers from the kelp to do bioplastics and adhesives and maybe also textiles.” The leftover kelp is turned into biofuel, so the clean energy aspect is just one of many uses for kelp in Scandinavia.

The Wrigley Institute scientists don’t use natural populations of kelp, but grow their own in a nursery, starting from spores. They tie the juvenile kelp to long, white PVC pipes and drop them into the water. Eventually they hope to create sheets of kelp plants hundreds of yards across.

The researchers don’t use the natural populations of kelp on Catalina Island, but grow their own in a nursery starting from spores, like this one at the research facility.

Ken Nealson, director of the Wrigley Institute, takes us out onto the water in a boat to see the test site where they’ve already dropped a pipe 30 feet below the surface, with small kelp plants sprouting off of it. Nealson straps on scuba gear and dives down to inspect the project, while bass and other marine life circle around him.

“What you see here is the beginning of something that can really revolutionize bio-fuel production, if it works on a large scale,” he explains. “You can imagine growing enough kelp to supply a percentage of the bioenergy that’s needed in this country.”

“Imagine” is the key word here. This experiment is in its earliest stages. By September, the researchers hope to put a full-scale kelp elevator in the water. And if that works, then someday years from now, endless miles of ocean could one day become farmland.



Lore paused, eyes narrowed slightly, then grinned and let himself fall lazily into the chair. “Whatever you say, Doctor Branson. Run along to Data, brother. Show him the good work our friend has so kindly done for you.” He didn’t speak again until B-4 was not only out of the room, but out of his augmented auditory range.

“I appreciate your concern, but I can assure you that I don’t require your inexperienced hand anywhere near my bioplast. I’ve been through much worse than a fight with a human too inebriated to stand up straight– I’m sure by now someone’s told you all about my stint in space, courtesy of my dear younger brother. I survived that all on my own. I don’t need your help now.” He plucked the small container of salve from the table and fiddled with it, twirling it between his fingers as though he could be distracted by such a simple action.

“You don’t need to keep using those little pet-names with him, you know. ‘How a sweetheart like you can get into a bar fight is beyond me’,” he parroted, his voice an exaggerated parody of her own as he flicked the container away, sending it skidding over the tabletop toward her. “You’re making a fool out of yourself and him.”

This California blackeye pea plant is shown growing over a three-week period in soil enriched with nontoxic, biodegradable plastic made of shrimp shells. 

Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering made the bioplastic so it can be used to manufacture cell phones, toys and in any other product in which regular plastics are used. Mixing in waste from wood processing called wood flour to prevent shrinkage, the team found that the material could be used in casting and injection-molding processes to make large 3-D objects. It also breaks down in two weeks and releases valuable nutrients into soil when it does, they say.

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So I had to temporarily take my philtrum bar out because since it’s still a new-ish (about two months old in a week) piercing the disc was rubbing the back of my lip a little raw and it needed a break. So I modified a small septum ring to fit my lip comfortably so I could have something in it without a disc rubbing the back of my lip. It actually doesn’t look half bad, kinda looks like a vertical philtrum piercing now haha. I gotta order a bioplast lebret stud soon.

Txch This Week: Smartphone Screens from Butterfly Wings, Humans Infected the Pacific, and Nature’s Own Genetically Modified Sweet Potatoes

This week on Txchnologist, we learned about a breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis and revelations in materials that could mean safer, greener plastics and massive energy savings in building airplanes.

Now we’re bringing you the highlights from the week, along with other news we’ve been following in the world of science, technology and innovation.

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Something New Grows on Trees: Biodegradable Chips for Electronics

It was just a couple of weeks ago when we featured nanocellulose, a natural supermaterial derived from plants that is getting ready for the spotlight. Researchers are looking at it for durable, transparent composites because of its strength. Others are investigating its use in applications from biocompatible implants and flexible displays and solar panels to better bioplastics, cosmetics and concrete.

Now we hear from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory that scientists have demonstrated a new product for the nanoscopic fibers of cellulose, a carbohydrate that gives structure to plant cell walls. Turning the material into a film, they’ve been able to produce high-performance computer chips made almost entirely of wood.

By replacing the semiconducting foundation of modern chips with biodegradable nanocellulose, electronics could become significantly less of an environmental burden when they are discarded.

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Title: Phototropia

Category: #smartmaterial #bioplastics #electro-active polymers

Author: Computer Aided Architectural Design, ETH Zurich

Year: 2012


Description: Phototropia is part of an ongoing series on the application of smart materials in an architectural context and was realized in April 2012 by the Master of Advanced Studies class at the Chair for CAAD. The project combines self-made electro-active polymers, screen-printed electroluminescent displays, eco-friendly bioplastics and thin-film dye-sensitized solar cells into an autonomous installation that produces its required energy from sunlight and - when charged - responds to user presence through moving and illuminating elements.

Test Compost Session: BioBag: Remember when I composted the BioBag?  Here is a little piece I found when doing the transfer.  After testing different bioplastics in my composter I’ve come to a conclusion about how they compost: bioplastics break apart rather than decay.  I guess breaking apart, shredding, fracturing are all means of disbursement but it is different than the decay that an apple or meat undergoes during decay.

I started composting the BioBag on 10/7 and this photo was taken on 11/8.  One month passed and this plastic was mildly intact.  I’m sure it broke down far better than a regular plastic bag, but I truly wonder how it would break down in the bottom of some landfill, compacted by time and earth, sealed from air. 

I bet a bird would love this to make their nest.

BioPlastics in Landfills a Bad Idea

According to University of North Carolina researchers, biodegradable products such as compostable service-ware do more harm than good when they end up in landfills. The study, published online May 27 in Environmental Science & Technology, points to increased interest in the use of biodegradable materials because they are believed to be “greener.” But when they end up in a landfill - as a large percentage of these products do - the materials degrade anaerobically to form methane and carbon dioxide.