A group of Brisbane biotechnologists have invented a way to use the cellulose in unused sugarcane plant material to produce waterproof papers and industrial cardboards.
Principal researchers and biotechnologists, Dr Les Edye and Dr Bill Doherty, made their discovery while working for the Cooperative Research Centre for Sugarcane Innovation through Biotechnology (CRC SIIB) based at the University of Queensland.
According to Dr Doherty, the untapped potential of sugarcane’s biomass is enormous.
He said: ‘Our work is revealing how we may actually use more of the entire sugarcane plant, millions of tonnes of unused plant matter or biomass, for future manufacturing and energy production. Waterproof cardboard might provide just one very promising commercial option.’
The CRC process requires the cellulose to be extracted from the cane biomass before being combined with new fermentation technology to make a type of lignin that would form the basis of a waterproof coating for a variety of papers.
Dr Doherty added: ‘Our process would potentially allow sugarcane growers and mills to team up with paper manufacturers to produce waterproof cardboard boxes and containers, waterproof paper bill-boards, even waterproof paper tarpaulins for emergency relief – all made from natural materials and all 100 per cent recyclable and environmentally friendly.’
Across the globe, food and beverage manufacturers are dependent on paper based packaging and cardboard to store and transport their goods safely to the consumer.
Dr Doherty continued: ‘Today, the only available technology to manufacturers is cardboard coated with a petroleum-based wax, which renders the packaging non-recyclable, or petroleum based plastics.
‘Fully recyclable, waterproof paper board could reduce billions of tonnes of landfill around the world.’