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New bio-based food packaging materials with enhanced barrier properties – BioBarrier

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BioBarr (New bio-based food packaging materials with enhanced barrier properties – BioBarrier)

Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2020-05-31

Food is the only product class typically consumed 3 times per day by every person; consequently, in terms of volume, food packaging accounts for almost 50% of total packaging waste, which is a large quantity (Vimal Katizar, 2017).

Traditional packaging products used on the FOOD market are represented by 99% plastic of fossil origin with only 1% represented by bioplastics. However, such indiscriminate use of synthetic packaging films has led to a serious ecological problem.

As active drivers for sustainable development, BioBarr Consortium has teamed up to proactively searching for alternatives to fossil based raw materials to be applied in the food packaging sector, contributing in an innovative manner to facing and tackle the economic and environmental problems represented by the use of fossil fuels as raw materials, greenhouse gases and waste management.

BioBarr project aims to develop along 54 months, at European level, a new food packaging system starting from the innovative biopolymers family of Poly-Hydroxy-Alkanoates (PHAs). The biopolymer, derived from natural bacterial fermentation of agricultural wastes or co-products, will represent the support on which further functionalization, based on coating or lamination treatments, will be developed for obtaining an environmentally sustainable packaging able to guarantee the optimal preservation of foods. This solution is a potential alternative to current fossil-based packaging solutions such as PP or PE.

Innovative functionalisation treatments will be tested taking into account the criteria that apply to conventional packaging materials associated with foods: barrier properties (water, gases, light, aroma) but also optical properties, strength, welding and moulding properties, marking and printing properties, migration/scalping requirements, chemical and temperature resistance properties, machinability, shelf-life in final applications, cost/benefit ratio, market perspectives and environmental sustainability of the process.

The new functionalized films for food packaging applications will have to demonstrate the following properties in industrial conditions:
- processability, resistance and reliability of the new biomaterials along producing cycle and during storage
- safety for the consumer
- total biodegradability and compostability according to the EN13432 normative of the packaging after its use (supported also by methods like LCA)
- compatibility with plants already existing (at converter level and productive processes of the food industry)
- capability to retard the kinetic decay of food products during storage and distribution time, preserving organoleptic quality, taste, convenience and safety of food products
- product attributes in line with the consumer’s needs and requirements.

BioBarr will also evaluate environmental impact (LCA), social impact and economic viability of the new packaging system (value chain), verifying its end-of-life phase significantly more sustainable than current plastic solutions and its price affordable.

The project involves companies and research centers from four EU countries, able to cover the entire value chain. The Project Coordinator is Tecnoalimenti, a research organisation for the food sector with over 40 years experience in food industry research and multidisciplinary projects.
The project activities are organised in eight Work Packages, all active in the period M19-M36.

More specifically,
WP1 coordinated the project activities
WP2 produced 110 kg of PHA powder, compounded in 100 Kg of plastic pellets (polymeric granules with specific shape and dimension: diameter 1-2 mm, length 3-5 mm), extruded in three reels.
WP3 worked for setting up methodologies for functionalizing the films produced and tested the feasibility of functionalization of the films at lab level.
WP4 has completed the optimization of existing compostable water-based ink with substitution of some current formulation components and replacement of the standard organic pigments with others more biodegradable and on the setting up of a completely new bio-based and compostable ink, able to be printed on PHA materials
WP5 has worked on testing the films obtained under the analytical point of view: functional and mechanical properties, migration and biodegradation properties.
WP6 monitored the normative evolution at national, European and International level, for eventual changes or legislative decisions which could affect the solutions here provided and completed a benchmarking analysis.
WP7 was involved in the overall environmental sustainability evaluation of the new solutions at the study, completing LCA.
WP8 has taken advantage of the communication material (leaflet, posters and website) for continuing dissemination activities.

Work has been developed in strict collaboration with the end-user, a bakery company from Tuscany (Corsini Biscotti).

Main achievements of the period:

- Reduction of chemical and energy consumption in the PHA production phase; this success will impact on the cost of production and on the related Life Cycle Assessment.
- Confirmation of PHA material processability in reels
- Very first prototypes of functionalized films ready, tested preliminarily under the mechanical and barrier properties with improving results in comparison to previous trials
- First samples of new ink, obtained through the replacement of some ink components with new bio-based materials for optimization of existing formulations; Replacement of the standard organic pigments with other more biodegradable, for enhancing the existing ink biodegradability
- Overall migration and specific migration of substances from the food contact material to the foodstuff tested on all the produced batches, with acceptable results in terms of compliance to the limits
- Biodegradability tests on the new material done on all the produced batches, verifying that the samples met all the standards requirements in terms of biodegradability
- LCA analysis almost ready
- Dissemination actions ongoing

8 milestones and 13 Deliverables have been reached from the beginning of the project. In general terms, activities are in line with expectations. It is reconfirmed the project main goal reachability in the ways and times as described in Annex 1 and estimated at M54 (November 2021). The impact remains valid in all respects.
What will remain after the project ends?
The end result expected from BioBarr is a new bio-based and fully biodegradable food packaging with barrier performances that allow to retard the kinetic decay of food products during the shelf-life, overcoming so the obstacles in performance that have up to date limited the food applications of totally biodegradable biopolymers.

The novel solutions applied in this project concern the intelligent combination of advanced technological elements: i) a bacteria-borne biodegradable material, ii) new coating treatment technologies, iii) completely biodegradable bio-ink for food packaging.

A debate over the possible scenarios facing BioBarr after the end of the project has been outlined by the benchmarking analysis carried out along the first 36 months of the project, but need to be better discussed internally also considering the results generated until the end of the project.