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Edible to usable: Turning foods to plastics alternatives

Source:American Chemical Society Release Date:2024-02-20 255
Food & Beverage Research
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Three separate studies explain how coffee grounds, tomato peels and gluten have a place in the production of future alternatives to fossil fuel-based plastics

Researchers are looking to foodstuffs as starting ingredients for polymer-based materials, including coffee grounds, tomato peels and gluten. New products made from these sustainable resources are reported in three papers recently published in ACS journals.

 

  1. Coffee grounds to coffee tables. Researchers have created a material suitable for large-format 3D printing by mixing leftover grounds into biobased polylactic acid. As a proof of concept, the team used the plastic composite to 3D print a life-sized side table, as described in the open access journal ACS Omega

 

This table is made from a material containing an unexpected foodstuff: coffee grounds. Adapted from ACS Omega 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.3c05669

 

 

  1. Tomato peels to high-tech bioplasticA study in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering details a tomato-based polyester plastic that remembers its previous shapes. A ring made of the yellow material was warped at a high temperature, then placed in a warm water bath set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, where it snapped back to its original desired shape. This proof-of-concept shows how biobased polyesters could be made with an abundant agricultural and food waste.

 

This tomato-based polyester plastic can remember its previous shapes. Adapted from ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.3c05713

 

  1. Gluten to a compostable composite. A team created the biobased composite by combining wheat gluten — sometimes added to bread dough for extra chewiness — and carbon fibres. The research reported in the open access journal ACS Omega illustrates how the gluten-based material had a similar strength to fossil fuel-based plastics, yet broke down within 30 days in soil and didn’t impact either the germination or growth of grass seeds. The team says the design could allow future items to be molded into any shape or size. 

 

Combining wheat gluten and carbon fibers produced this strong composite that’s also compostable. Adapted from ACS Omega 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.3c07711

 

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’ main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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