The growth of the world economy and the rising global population (9 billion by 2050) mean that the Earth’s natural resources are being used up fast. Resources need to be managed more efficiently throughout their life cycle, from extraction, transport, transformation and consumption, to the disposal of waste. Several companies, and research entities have developed biobased polymer resins nevertheless further improvements are needed to provide cost effective solutions with high bio-based content and suitable performances to meet for example the target of the newly enforced laws that requires some disposable items such as tableware to be home compostable from 2017 with a minimum bio-sourced content of 30% (increasing progressively in subsequent years to 60% in 2025). The combined plastic and food sector form an important part of the EU economy, accounting for 15 million jobs (7.6% of total employment). Unlocking the innovation potential in the field of packaging, and cosmetics will significantly contribute to job creation and competitiveness. Sustainable synthesis of polyhydroxyalkanaotes from agro-food by-products as well as synthesis of lactic acid co-polymers constitute a pathway to performing and sustainable polymeric matrices.
Natural fibers as well as polysaccharides (starch, cellulose, chitin, chitosan), cutin and protein rich by-products are abundantly available from the agrofood industry. Running Horizon 2020 EC project target developing eco-efficient ways to convert agro-food wastes into bio-based coating products (ECOFUNCO) or the conversion of food by-products such as bran or coffee silver-skin in biobased sustainable bio-composites (AGRIMAX, PROLIFIC) whose properties may be tuned by lignocellulosic fibres modification. Natural fibres may be modified chemically, with enzymes or treating their surface with natural waxes with a significant improvement in adhesion and impact resistance.
These projects have received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union's Horizon2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement: ECOFUNCO No 837863, AGRIMAX No 720719, Prolific No 790157.
An overview on the availability, collection, treatment and approach to valorization of largely available agro-food waste biomass for both polymers and biocomposites production, is hereby reported with exampled of product developed in our research units, such as sustainable pots, rigid containers, active films, non-woven tissue.