From multilayer to monolayer food packaging
Chemical startup Boostani has managed to make 70 percent of the multilayer packaging of perishable foods such as meat and cheese with a monolayer package while keeping hygiene and shelf life. This reduces the number of extrusion machines, enables material recycling a lot easier, and saves one third in material usage and energy costs.
Every traveler will notice that there is a widespread waste of plastics, rinsing, dwarfing and drifting around. In any case, this waste stream worried Margareta Merke when her company SolarGrid Tanzania installed its solar systems in Tanzania. Graduated in plastic engineering, she came to the idea to devote her dissertation to more sustainable, degradable biobased plastics, making recycling a lot easier. In addition to her PhD-research at the University of Maastricht, she established the company Boostani in March 2017 with support of business angels and Brighlands Innovatio Factory. Three academic experts have joined the company since. The startup company is located on Brightlands Chemelot Campus in the Netherlands.
Up to twelve layers
Boostani started with the hardest: meat packaging. Due to the shelf life and the risk of bacterial contamination, the packaging consists of up to twelve layers of plastic. Each layer has its own strong qualities. From a technological point of view fantastic but a recycling disaster: they are hardly partitionable, let alone reuse, because the separation of the thin layers (about 10 micrometer) consumes immense amounts of energy. Also, twelve layers imply twelve extruders and disproportional material usage.
To that end, Boostani develops a fully recyclable solution. At least, for two of the plastics that take two-thirds of the market: polypropylene and polyethylene. Instead of twelve different layers, only one type of plastic will be used. How? The crux is in the application of special additives and in the process technology. The additives consist of degradable biobased material. Thanks to their active blendings, which are smaller than molecules, they form a kind of barrier to substances that should not enter the packaging. Boostani claims that up to 30 % of the currently needed amount of plastic can be saved with their solution. This reduces transport costs and thus, energy costs.
The main properties targeted by Boostani are the oxygen transmission rate and the water vapor transmission rate. Because the process is comparable standard processes, compounding don’t have to do extra investments. Also, all materials used meet the FDA-requirements.
Not everything is set. In the laboratory, the young entrepreneurs managed to make 70 percent of the package from a single layer, the remaining 30 percent is still in progress. In addition, upscaling is a challenge. Testing is performed at the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials and as PhD-students they can use the extrusion machines located at Brigthlands Chemelot. The company is also looking for compounding companies who want to test the product.
Financing is another obstacle. The principle works The goal is to get 100% of barrier properties as there are in today’s multilayer. They have samples that have 70% already. Until mid-2018, Boostani plans to develop a reproducible prototype with the help of the subsidy received from the Limburg government mid-October. the first launching customers will be approached early 2019. For the financing of larger machines, the company thinks of interesting Business Angels or other private financing. Whether the company wil build a factory at kiloton level itself at the end of the day of will choose for licensing the technology, depends on the business model.