Good news on the environmental front. A consortium of European companies has collaborated in a Eureka project to develop a biodegradable material that has a range of potential applications, from industrial filters and packaging to disposable nappies.
The nonwoven fabric uses polyactide (PLA), a polymer previously confined to specialised uses such as surgical sutures. PLA is based on lactic acid, easily produced from corn and other starch-based crops. Huge quantities are produced daily all over the world and it is readily available as a feedstock.
PLA is a polyester that melts at temperatures closer to those of polypropylene, but unlike technical polymers, PLA biodegrades and is compostible. Degradation occurs over a period of weeks and months once the fabric is placed in an environment conducive to composting or biodegradation.
The Finnish company Neste first created a polyactide which could be spun into fine fibres. Project leader Fiberweb France, then developed the technology to make the fibres into a fabric which they call Deposa. Some of the products containing Deposa are currently being tested, including lined nappies and other hygiene products.
French company Vetoquinol is also working on a way to administer drugs to cattle. A Deposa sachet containing a drug is fed to an animal and is released gradually over a period of months.
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