An editor of a popular plastics publication conducted an interview with me and ALGIX about the next generation algae plastic, to be displayed at Pack Expo: unlike its predecessor, it neither looks, feels, nor smells like the ocean; instead, customers now have the opportunity to source colored and odor free algae plastic from Dordan for their thermoformed packaging needs.
For some reason, the interview was never published. Consequently, I have included it below; it describes the progress ALGIX is making with material production and performance, demonstrating innovations in material science and aquatic waste management. Enjoy! And stop by our booth #6606 at Pack Expo in Las Vegas to check out the next generation algae plastic for yourself!
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COLORED ALGAE PLASTIC / HOW DOES COLOR PROVIDE A BENEFIT?
Synthesizing algae plastic from aquatic biomass derived from aquaculture waste is significant in just that: it is taking a pervasive waste issue of one industry i.e. aquaculture (fish farming), and using it as the feedstock to replace the fossil fuel based component of plastic. The algae essentially is a polymer extender that binds to the base resin—be it PLA or PP, reducing the amount of resin needed for the same application. This technology has the potential to fundamentally change the aquaculture waste management industry while providing the plastics industry and its supply chain partners with a new bio-based material that performs akin to the base resin to which it is bound.
If combined with a compostable or biodegradable base resin, the algae plastic will “biodegrade” via consumption by microorganisms inherent in the intended disposal environment.
However, no recycling end of life option for any algae/plastic blends (or conventional plastic blends in general) exists. Composting, waste to energy or land filling are the most likely end of life options.
The significance of color in discussions of the value of algae plastic rests solely on rhetoric of the marketability of the material: instead of looking and smelling like algae, as in the case with the first generation material, it looks and smells like plastic! Moreover, the ability to remove odor and enhance performance while simultaneously offering a variety of colors demonstrates the advances in material science to the consumer, validating the importance of plastics and sustainability in today’s market. It’s unique story that will resonate with today’s sustainability minded consumers, and it's cool!
CAN YOU HIGHLIGHT SOME OF THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THIS GENERATION OF ALGAE PLASTIC COMPARED TO THE FIRST?
According to Ryan Hunt, Chief Technical Officer at ALGIX, “This generation [of algae plastic] incorporates an additive package that enhances plastic material strength and reduces odor, and it is made with micronized algae biomass, which enhances dispersion and process-ability.” In other words, through trial and error, ALGIX discovered that when “mixing” algae with plastic, the algae didn’t disperse consistently throughout the base resin; consequently, the material could not be processed consistently. This generation of algae plastic, however, includes processing aids that allow the algae and base resin to blend together more predictably. In addition, this generation of algae plastic uses algae that has been milled down to a fine powder, allowing one to control and maintain the particle size throughout production. Taken together—the lubricant additive and micronized algae—allow for a more consistent algae plastic material, suitable for conversion via an array of plastics processing technologies.
Last but not least, ALGIX is experimenting with odor removal techniques because the first gen algae plastic smelled like the ocean! The samples on display at Pack Expo will demonstrate one of ALGIXs’ attempt at odor removal.
WHAT ARE THE APPLICATIONS WITHIN PACKAGING YOU ARE TARGETING
Dordan had demonstrated that the algae plastic can be easily thermoformed. Other friends of ALGIX have demonstrated that the material can be converted via the following processes: injection molding, flexible extrusion, and cast and blown film.
IS THIS COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE?
According to Jorge Cornejo, Sales Executive at ALGIX, “Yes, on our end things are ready to move into commercial production, but not sure what restrictions may exist on yours.” By “yours” he is referring to the obstacles that exist for Dordan’s clients insofar as selecting algae plastic for their next packaging project. Because the technology for synthesizing plastic from aquatic biomass is so new, the pricing is constructed around a 1-5 year projection; consequently, it is somewhat difficult to quantify to brand owners the value of thermoforming parts from algae when our plastic suppliers are not even offering algae plastic in their materials library. Like any new material entering the market, the economies of scale must be established in order to generate the supply/demand equilibrium necessary to allow for competitive market penetration.