03 May Andaltec and the Spanish Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC in its original acronym) develop a joint project on bioplastics produced from tomato waste and its manufacture on industrial scale
The Technological Centre on Plastics (Andaltec) and the Institute for Science of Materials in Seville (a branch of CSIC) are developing a joint project in order to manufacture bioplastics produced from tomato waste in an industrial scale. With that purpose, both entities have joined efforts to set up an experimental factory intended to manufacture a bioplastic material from the residue resulting from tomato processing.
Current processing techniques for crushed tomato production generate an enormous amount of waste material, mainly skin, fiber and seeds, which is very difficult to re-use. Francisco Javier Navas, lead researcher for this project in Andaltec, estimates that around 6,500 tons of this kind of waste are generated just in Spain and 25,000 more in the whole of Europe. He states that ‘the market is increasingly demanding more bioplastics, whose raw materials are usually vegetables. They also are a superb alternative to petroleum-based plastic materials. Thus, this is a project with a great potential, offering multiple possibilities to food and plastic manufacturing companies’.
Researchers intend to implement, at a semi-industrial level, a new bioplastic synthesis process which doesn’t compromise the access to food, since it uses an alternative carbon source resulting from the waste in the tomato production process. Besides, this is an environmentally-friendly technique since it reuses previously useless waste from the tomato industry. The core of this project is a physical-chemical procedure patented by CSIC and University of Málaga, which allows to obtain a synthetic bioplastic keeping the main properties of tomatoes, such as hydrophobicity, non-toxicity and biodegradation. ‘In addition, this material has the special ability to paste itself very efficiently to metallic surfaces, avoiding the use any other adhesive components. This feature can be essential for the development of future applications’, Navas states.
José Jesús Benítez, researcher for the Institute for Science of Materials in Seville, adds that the re-use of agricultural and food waste is especially important in Andalusia. He also considers that it gives them an extra value, fostering the research and industrial activity linked to the use of those bioplastics.
Once the synthesis has been successfully carried out in the lab, the challenge is transferring it to the experimental factory through the implied processes in the obtainment of the polymer. This is a necessary step previous to its future manufacturing. Thus, researchers in Andaltec and the Institute for Science of Materials in Seville are carrying out the design and preparation of the equipment, as well as the physical-chemical processes needed to succeed in the manufacturing of this product at an industrial scale.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 296014.