Welcome to the third and final 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.
Vadim Scerbacov, Innoven
Jocelyne Bia, BBIA
Fig.1 – the Usable Packaging circular value chain
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 using agro-industrial by-products as feedstocks.
Crucially, USABLE PACKAGING partners are testing these materials to understand how they fit into end-of-life processes either biodegradation, composting or recycling through anaerobic digestion – so that they may be able to generate the feedstock and biogas needed to manufacture the next round of products – reducing further the impact of plastic waste on the environment and creating a sustainable, circular value chain. (see Fig 1)
A consortium of 25 partners representing businesses, universities, research centres, trade associations and other organisations from all over Europe are working together on the project, led by Spain’s Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) and scheduled to end in November 2022. Each partner is tasked with delivering key elements of the process as Work Packages ranging from an assessment of the current packaging options to the development and testing of the new polymers, engagement with end-users and commercialisation (Fig 2).
Fig. 2 – Work Packages and lead partners
- The definition of new vertically integrated and circular value chains where food-processing by-products/residues and biogenic CO2 are transformed into compostable and recyclable bio-packaging, via low-environmental-footprint processes.
- The creation of bio-packaging solutions to cover a wide range of packaging needs for food, drinks, pharma and clothing, based on bioplastics with adequate physical and chemical properties.
- The development of bio-packaging solutions with clear end-of-life scenario options, with economic added value such as organic recycling intended for anaerobic digestion or composting or else re-digestion to obtain new virgin biopolymer (PolyHydroxyAlkanoate, PHA) in a closed cycle.
- The optimisation of PHA functionalisation to match requirements for end-use in packaging.
- The optimisation of the processes for transformation of functional PHA into packaging, including compounding functionalisation extrusion, blown film process, multilayer
- The production of adhesive layers to replace petrochemical peers, by on-line functionalisation thus overcoming the current main bottlenecks for bio-based multilayer films.
- The reduction of the environmental footprint of the plastic packaging sector.
- Considering emissions, while local feedstocks supply network is considered, avoiding negative C-footprint through long distance transportation.
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 were 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 methodology used for the Life Cycle Assessment of PHA material production was developed 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 commercialised by Sphere, flow pack for breads, tubes and bags 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, an inventory of Agricultural Waste, Co-products and By-products (AWCB) available in Europe and specifically from the consortium industrial partners was carried out. AWCB types, sources and volumes were identified, revealing the large quantities and diversity of the materials available. The panorama included 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. The report also included 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 as it emerged that the cost structure of products was strongly dependent on the raw materials provided as feedstock. There was excellent competitivity with state-of–the-art bio reach in the case of side streams from bread and pasta production.
All deliverables have been completed for this work package.
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.
During the Usable Packaging project, the WP2 activity has been mainly focused on the development of innovative routes for Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) production and extraction. Laboratory scale processes were studied with either mixed (MMC) or pure microbial cultures, as well as anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria and halophilic bacteria. A pilot scale process has also been set up, and for it MMC have been used and fed with either synthetic substrates or food industry by-products (namely regrind pasta, RG) after a preliminary pre-treatment step of acidogenic fermentation. Overall, more than 600 kg of PHA-rich biomass have been produced at the dedicated pilot plant (operated by Innoven) and extracted at pilot scale by BBEPP.
In greater detail, Innoven was responsible for the production of PHA-rich biomass derived from the liquid effluent obtained from RG fermentation. The PHA-rich biomass production stage was divided into several periods. In the first two periods, slurry was used as co-substrate of RG during the fermentation process, in the later periods the separated liquid digestate from an anaerobic digestion stage was used as co-substrate. It was not always possible to use the fermented effluent as the only substrate for biomass in the accumulation PHA phase because the fermented had a low concentration of volatile fatty acids (VFA) and the polymer obtained did not have the desired characteristics. Therefore, in the last period of operation of the MMC-PHA production process at the pilot scale, Innoven also focused on improving the quality of the fermented effluent to increase the VFA concentration. This was done by buffering the fermentative reactor with sodium bicarbonate to allow the pH to be raised and improve the acidogenic activity of the bacteria. In fact, from March onward, the fermented effluent reached a VFA concentration of 55 g/L, and particularly in June and July 2022, high concentrations of acids such as valeric and caproic acid were also revealed. This is particularly relevant since the obtained VFA composition and concentration affect the final polymer characteristics obtained in the PHA accumulation stage. Overall, 60 kg of PHA rich biomass by using the fermented effluent with these characteristics were further produced by Innoven. This will be followed by the extraction of the polymer and its characterisation.
As for PHA extraction at pilot plant by BBEPP, to purify and extract PHA to the highest purity possible (>90 %) and to highest recovery yield as possible, it has been demonstrated that the type of extraction, has a crucial role in determining the properties of the extracted PHA, both in terms of crystallinity and purity. In the start of the project the aim was to utilize physico-chemical method to purify the PHA without the implementation of solvents (Figure 3). But by the end of the project, it was evident that it is difficult to purify PHBV with higher valerate content (ranging from about 30% to approximately 70% wt.) without the application of green sustainable solvents. The eventual application of the solvent-based extraction resulted in the purification of PHA from 70 % (wt.) to almost 100 % (wt.) although with slightly lower recovery yield >50 %. This can be further improved with some solvent recycling, reprocessing and recovery of the product to around >70 %.
Fig. 3. PHA extraction and purification approaches
Fig. 4 A/B –
(A) Purified PHBV (60 % valerate content) showing
(B) 99 % purity shown on TGA
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 is 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
Starting from the formulations proposed in the WP3, it has been possible to obtain a filament as prototype in collaboration with Centexbel and InnoExc. This prototype demonstrates that PHA-based materials could be useful for the production of filaments that could be used for the production of specific packaging (woven packaging bags).
In collaboration with Innoven and UniRoma, it has been possible to set up the organic recycling. Particularly, will be evaluated the biomethane potential production of materials in form of pellet and final articles (nest and filament) in UniRoma facilities.
Innoven recently finished the PHA biomethanation production trial (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5 – Bottles from biomethanation trial led by Innoven
WP5 – Exploitation
Following on from the physical event held in Valencia in September (see Newsletter Issue 2), Usable Packaging leaders held another Stakeholder Platform (SP) online on 12 ApriL. Gathering around 20 participants, they were able to update stakeholders on the progress of the project and receive valuable feedback from the audience.
The team is now working on organising an end-of-project conference for all stakeholders as well as the general public on 9th November at Ecomondo, the green technology expo taking place in Rimini, Italy from 8th to 11th November.
The meeting, which will take place from 10.00 until 13.00 on 9th November will present an overview of the project, its initial aims and objectives, achievements and future perspectives. Detailed information about the sustainable production routes of pure PHAs bio-polymers and the
bio-based packaging products generated within the project will also be presented. For information on how to register for the meeting, please contact Jocelyne Bia at BBIA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, the exploitation roadmap for the technologies developed during the USABLE PACKAGING project has been completed and two new European patent applications, plus one trademark, were made as a result of the project. It might take several years for the outcome of the applications to be known.
WP6 – Dissemination and communication
With the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions continuing to be lifted, USABLE PACKAGING representatives were able to promote the project at an increasing number of physical events. In particular, they were able to reach out to audiences outside of the immediate bioplastics community with BBIA hosting a high profile reception at the Houses of Lords in London for UK parliamentarians in November 2021 and CSIC joining fashion and food aficionados at a “Moda y Gastonomia Sostenible” event in Valencia in May.
Fig. 7 – Moda Y Gastronomia Sostenible
Other events where the Usable Packaging project was promoted include:
- 7th Mixed Microbial Culture PHA Workshop, Valencia – (CSIC/UNIROMA/INRA/University of Montpellier/BIOINICIA)
- International Congress GEP-SLAP 2022 – CSIC/Gaiker
- Dumbiop22 – Journées de Printemps 2022 du GdR DUrabilité des
Matériaux Biosourcés – University of Montpellier
- SETAC Europe 32 Annual Meeting – USC
- Encontro com a Ciência e Tecnologia em Portugal –FCT NovaID (Fig.8)
- BBIA Annual Conference – BBIA
- 8th European Bioremediation Conference – FCT NovaID
- First Symposium for Young Chemists: Innovation and Sustainability – Uniroma
- European Polymer Congress – University of Montpellier
Fig. 8 – Dumbiop22
Fig. 9 – Encontro com a Ciência e Tecnologia em Portugal
An additional six scientific papers were published since September 2021. They were added to the dedicated page on the Usable Packaging website:
Meanwhile, the Vox Pop video produced by BBIA in October 2021 to gauge public perception of packaging achieved a reach of c70K with six items of news coverage (printed and online)
The editors of this newsletter would like to thank BBIA, CSIC, Innoven, InnoExc, Uniroma, USC, UM,SABIO and BBEPP for their contributions to this newsletter.
For more information, contact: Jocelyne Bia, email@example.com
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