Food packaging from wood fibres?

Thermo-plastic packaging material demonstrated at VTT; and its processing.

Consumers and companies alike are interested in environment-friendly and recyclable packaging made from renewable materials, such as wood. Using cellulose and fatty acids, two completely renewable substances, VTT, a Finnish research, development institute, has developed a material that can be used in food packaging similarly to plastic due to its thermo-formable properties.

The development work is currently underway in cooperation with Arla Foods, Paulig and Wipak, a company with a long history and extensive know-how in the development of innovative and sustainable materials.

The final application of the Thermocell material that has been developed will depend on how companies want to use it. It is suitable for many purposes for which fossil-based plastics are currently being used.

Thermo-plastic cellulose (cellulose that can be moulded using heat) can be processed in conventional plastic treatment processes. Like plastic, the material can be refined into packaging films and bulk commodities.

The next step in the development process is to produce hundreds of kilos of the material and process it into various packaging prototypes with companies. This is done to verify the functionality of the material in industrial processes and in real application conditions.

Cellulose is the most abundant natural polymer. Due to its hydrogen bonds, cellulose has formed a resistant micro-fibril network, making it strong. To achieve thermo-plasticity, cellulose must be tailored without significantly affecting its natural properties.

In the new technology the molar mass of cellulose is first adjusted in a controlled manner, followed by chemical treatment, which eventually produces a thermo-plastic material.

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