Issue 2 Autumn 2021 is now out.  The newsletter aims to keep you up to date with the project’s progress. In this issue, you’ll find an overview of the project and a comprehensive round up of the work packages activities, featuring the outcomes of the research undertaken to date and a link to a vox pop study carried out in June 2021 to assess people’s perception of bioplastics

Issue 2 Autumn 2021

Welcome to the Usable Packaging project newsletter
This newsletter aims to keep you up-to-date with the project’s progress. We hope you find it informative and look forward to hearing from you with any questions and comments.

Simone Nortilli, Innoven

Jocelyne Bia, BBIA
jb@bbia.org.uk

Contents

Project overview

Launched in June 2019 in Valencia, Spain, the Usable Packaging project aims to develop a portfolio of new bio-based, compostable packaging materials for application in the food, clothing and pharmaceutical industries. The core objective of the three-year project, funded by the EU and governed by the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) as part of the EU Horizon 2020 programme (under grant agreement 836884), is to dramatically reduce the use of environmentally-harmful fossil-fuel-based packaging by developing high performance bio-alternatives with adequate packaging properties.

Work packages round-up

The Usable Packaging project is divided into seven Work Packages (WP), five technical, 1 focussed on communications, and one dedicated to the administration of the project – the aims of the WPs are as follows:

WP1 – Products specifications and feedstocks

Under this work package, partners have been tasked with establishing a “Database and scenario for environmental impact of Usable Packaging”, drawing “Initial Technical Specifications for End Use Usable Packaging Portfolio” and reviewing “Feedstock Availability and Characteristics for the Production of Bio- polymers”.
The Life Cycle Assessment of PHA material production was focussed around five different stages of life:

A – substrate production, including collection, storage and pre-processing, B – PHA fermentation, C – PHA downstream process, D – bioplastic moulding and E – bioplastic end-of-life.

Then the team established a catalogue of specifications for packaging products selected by Usable Packaging industrial partners. The portfolio contains cup, cutlery, plate, food tray commercialized by Sphere, flow pack for breads, tubes and bag for dry biscuits used by Barilla, Sonae’s and Orogel’s frozen food packaging, wine bags from Caviro, large bags for agricultural products used by PHR, nest and tub for pharma used by Ompi and blow molding bottles for Koruma. This catalogue provides the consortium with the primary key input necessary for the design of the packaging developed throughout the project.

Finally, they carried out an inventory of Agricultural Waste, Co-products and By-products (AWCB) available in Europe and specifically from the consortium industrial partners. AWCB types, sources and volumes were identified, revealing the large quantities and diversity of the materials available. The panorama includes the details and characteristics of AWCB generated by the project’s industrial partners and main AWCB available in Usable Packaging consortium countries derived either from agriculture or industry. Their report also includes details on the supply chain constraints linked to specific types of AWCB, data on environmental, legal and economic constraints as well as current ways of valorizing the identified feedstocks. While the total AWCB volume from the industrial partners look big, it will be necessary to investigate the economic and environmental viability of using it.

An economic viability analysis was performed at it emerged that the cost structure of products is strongly dependent on the raw materials provided as feedstock, with excellent competitivity with state-of–the-art bio reach in case of side streams from bread and pasta production.

All deliverables have been completed

  • D1.1 Database and scenario for environmental impact of Usable by 31.5.2020, on time as per grant
  • D1.2 Technoeconomic analysis of benchmarks and markets for Usable products by 31.8.2020, on time as per grant
  • D1.3 Consolidated technical specifications for end use Usable portfolio by 30.6.2021, approx. 1 month later
  • D1.4 Initial technical specifications for end use Usable portfolio, by 31.5.2020, on time as per grant
  • D1.5 Library of feedstock specifications availability, by 30.11.2019, on time as per grant

WP2 – Production of PHA

A main task in the USABLE PACKAGING Project, investigated in WP2, is the development of innovative eco- efficient routes for the production of biopolymers, namely PolyHydroxyAlkanoates (PHA). These are a family of polyesters with tunable composition and properties, which give them the potential to be applied for a wide portfolio of applications as constituent of several bioplastics. Besides that, the great interest in the PHA relies on the fact that such biopolymers are three times “bio”, being of biological origin and completely biodegradable in the environment (under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions). Here, the idea is to exploit several types of food industry by-products as feedstock of the PHA-producing process by employing either mixed microbial cultures or axenic ones.

The use of mixed microbial cultures (MMC) for PHA production using food industry by-products is a main challenge of the Project, that has been primarily investigated at lab scale. A key point of the process is the microbial selection of MMC into PHA-storing microorganisms starting from an activated sludge. Two approaches have been investigated, the “sequential” and the “continuous” one, differing by the way the carbon source was provided to microorganisms.

The obtained outcomes have been used to run the pilot process located in Isola della Scala (Verona,Italy), where the fermentation of Barilla Substrate was investigated for VFA production during the fermentation step and the subsequent use of it as carbon source for the PHA production in a MMC process. So far, the samples of enriched biomass produced have been sent to partners for purification steps and further characterizations. Particularly biomass disruption processes and optimized chemical and enzymatic treatment conditions have been evaluated. The first scale up run to provide partners a kg amount of PHB/PHBV is scheduled in October 2021.

To expand the PHAs portfolio, the production of mcl-pHAs by Pseudomonas putida under nutritional limitation (N or P) was studied from glucose and short chain VFAs (C2 to C4). Based on kinetic and stoichiometric parameters and cell viability, a fed-batch production strategy with glucose and under phosphorus limitation resulted in the production of a polymer (33% DCW) relatively homogeneous in size (PDI = 1.6) and composition (70 mol% 3-hydroxydecanoate).

Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that mussel processing water (MPW) can be used as a substrate for producing PHB by a halophilic bacteria without the addition of any nutrient. Moreover, it was proved that Halomonas boliviensis can produce PHB from MPW hydrolysate in non sterile conditions, reaching a maximal PHB content of 48.5% in a lab-scale bioreactor that was operated without sterilizing either the culture medium or the culture vessel.

Eventually, a computer-aided design tool is provided to assist the decision making by

  • (1) screening potential wastes as potential substrates for VFA production,
  • (2) exploring operational conditions and assist lab and piloting research,
  • (3) finding suitable substrates or co-substrates to achieve a determined VFA composition and,
  • (4) providing primary data for prospective life cycle assessment and life cycle cost.”

WP3 – Functionalisation and compounding

WP4 – Packaging production and recycling

These packages build on the outcomes of the previous two.

WP3 is dedicated to the functionalisation of produced PHAs and their blending with other bio-polymers to obtain a portfolio of bio-based molecules for different purposes. The most suitable bio-based polymers identified in WP3 will be used as building blocks for packaging targets in WP4.

WP4 is in fact the core WP in which the potential for USABLE PACKAGING will be demonstrated. The biodegradability and recyclability of studied materials will be assessed against internationally accepted
standards. WP4 will be the bridge between all the previous work packages. Its specific objectives are:

  • assessing and retro-engineering the performance of packaging items
  • realizing packaging items
  • evaluating their behaviour in real conditions and assessing their end-of-life options
  • determining environmental performance over their entire life cycle

Work has been carried out towards the selection of nontoxic additives with the potential to achieve different barrier, active and mechanical properties. In the same manner, a down selection of compound formulations has been done to advance on the creation of a portfolio of bio-packaging solutions that match current benchmark references. The formulas and additives have been processed and the first prototypes are being designed. CSIC, along with Gaiker produced the first reusable prototypes. On the second prototype, frozen food bags were also developed with blown films generated by BIO-MI. The bags were successfully sealed and maintained the vacuum appropriately.

A series of activities are carried out simultaneously under WP4 – in particularly, research into the design of the USABLE PACKAGING prototype, showing the different packaging items that the project has aimed to develop. This covered the development of materials at large scale for manufacturing rigid packaging, and the optimization and characterization of film packaging, followed by the evaluation of end-of-life of end-products materials, produced by the project, through to biodegradability and compostability analysis. Ongoing activities include data collection for environmental assessment (LCA analysis) and the assessment of REACH compliance in packaging products.

WP5 Exploitation

Stakeholder Platform (SP) activities in 2021 have consisted in online meetings held to update Platform members on the development of the project. Three meetings were held to engage local audiences- one in French, one in Italian and one in Portuguese over the period February to June 2021. Recordings of these events were shared under WP6 (see WP6 update).

The first in-person stakeholders meeting since the outbreak of Covid took place in Valencia on 21st September and enabled them both in the room and online to provide valuable feedback on the project progress to the WP5 leaders.
Another in-person SP meeting is planned at Ecomondo (Rimini, Italy) on 28 October. Stakeholder activities have been limited by the travel restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic, nevertheless, the number of members has increased to over 60 from across the EU and USABLE PACKAGING leaders are engaging regularly with them.

With regards to the plan for exploitation, the portfolio analysis has been completed and the USABLE PACKAGING portfolio has been structured around flexible packaging and pharmaceutical packaging, which represent the main potential volumes, with, additionally, rigid packaging, negatively impacted by SUP, detergents packaging and agricultural packaging.

WP6 Dissemination and communication

The Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in March 2020 has meant that many of the scheduled dissemination activities for the USABLE PACKAGING project had to be cancelled. The focus therefore shifted towards creating online content to promote the achievements of the partners. Following a successful “One Year On” webinar” in July 2020, UP partner BBIA organised update webinars in French (February 2021 – in partnership with Euramaterials), Italian (April 2021) and Portuguese (June 2021 – in partnership with FCT NovaID) under WP5. These can be viewed on the Usable Packaging website as well as the YouTube channel.

In addition, representatives of the USABLE PACKAGING project joined online conferences to it to a wide and diverse audience. Then, as the Covid restrictions eased during 2021, partners were finally able to resume attending physical events. Highlights include:

  • LCA Food Conference- Universidade Santiago de Compostela (USC)
  • 4th Mediterranean Congress of Chemical Engineering (MECCE 2020) – USC
  • 5th International Conference on Chemical Engineering (ICCE 2020) – Uniroma
  • European Federation of Biotechnology 2021 – Uniroma
  • 8th International Conference on Sustainable Solid Waste Management – Innoven
  • 3rd International Conference for Bioresource Technology for Bioenergy, Bioproducts &
    Environmental Sustainability (Biorestec 2021) – FCT NovaID
  • International Conference on Renewable Bioresources and Biorefineries – FCT NovaID

Scientific papers are also a key part of the USABLE PACKAGING dissemination and communications work and a dedicated section capturing all those published since the beginning of the project was added to the Usable Packaging website. You can access those papers here.

Finally, BBIA has launched a new “Vox Pop” video to gauge public perception of packaging. Produced in English, “Bioplastics – what do people think?” will also be issued with subtitles for French, Italian, Spanish and a number of other European audiences. It is now also available on the YouTube Channel.
Watch the video here.

With English subtitles here.

Acknowledgments

The editors of this newsletter would like to thank BBIA, CSIC, Innoven, InnoExc, Uniroma, University Santiago de Compostela, University of Montpellier,SABIO and BBEPP for their contributions to this newsletter.

To subscribe, contact: Jocelyne Bia, jb@bbia.org.uk

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