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Development of a flexible and energy-efficient pressurised microwave heating process to produce 3D-shaped renewable bio-polymer foams for a novel generation of transportation packaging (REBIOFOAM)
Start date: 01 Feb 2009, End date: 31 Jan 2013 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), Polyurethane (EPU), Polyethylene (EPE) and Polypropylene (EPP) represent the most popular moulded cushion packaging materials applied for transport packaging applications. However, despite of their functionality, the widespread use of these polymer foams of synthetic origin implies considerable environmental concerns. The depletion of non-renewable fossil raw material resources associated with emissions of greenhouse gases, such as C5H12 and CO2 applied as blowing agents during processing, are the most direct impacts on the environment. Moreover, their non-biodegradable / non-compostable nature associated with the short life of cushion packaging products rises up fundamental concerns regarding waste disposal. Recycling, which is the solely applicable solution for preventing those synthetic foams entering the waste stream, appears in fact to be rarely applied due to cost-ineffectiveness and lack of effective recycling system. With this in mind, bio-based plastics represent an emerging highly promising solution for protective transport packaging provided that they can be processed in foamed products resulting in adequate functional requirements. Within this framework, the project idea is to develop a flexible, energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable manufacturing process enabling the production of biodegradable foamed 3D-shaped packaging originating from renewable raw materials (i.e. starch and water). Within the proposed process, expansion and foaming of the bio-polymer will be driven by pressurized microwave technology, exploiting the inner water content of the material itself to generate vapour. The proposal is fully compliant with the targeted topic “NMP-2007-2.4-1 Flexible efficient processing for polymers”, as the proposed process offers a valid alternative to petroleum-based polymer processing, involving the use of renewable feedstocks, and involving microwaves as energy-efficient processing solution.
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