Research is being conducted on biodegradable polymers at the University of Bayreuth. Now an environmentally friendly coating has been developed that could be a full-fledged replacement for the millions of plastic packaging materials used worldwide.
The Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1357 Microplastics combines the expertise of the University of Bayreuth to analyse mechanisms and processes of the biological effects, transport and formation of microplastics. Prof. Dr. Josef Breu, Chair of Inorganic Chemistry I, is a member of the SFB and leads the project "Degradation of biodegradable polymers and their clay nanocomposites under environmentally relevant conditions" together with Prof. Seema Agarwal (Macromolecular Chemistry II). The project aims to provide material solutions to the problem of microplastics originating from important market sectors, such as food packaging, which end up in industrial composting plants when disposed of together with food waste, and which enter the natural environment in large quantities when carelessly discarded by people worldwide.
Now Maximilian Röhrl, a doctoral student under Prof. Dr. Josef Breu, has been working on the development of environmentally friendly coatings based on synthetic layered silicates as part of his doctoral thesis over the last few years. Among other things, he has investigated barrier films. These are the layer between packaging and product and thus protect food from contamination, dust or moisture. The barrier films developed by Röhrl are comparable to the effect of plastic films, but are more environmentally friendly because they are compostable.
Maximilian Röhrl's work is based on many years of research by Prof. Dr. Josef Breu in the field of layered silicates. The current research, which is docked at the SFB Microplastics, links the work of Röhrl and Breu with industry. "The cooperation with our industrial partner Procter & Gamble shows that our research is practical and also has relevance outside of basic research," says Prof. Dr. Josef Breu.
Breu and Röhrl, together with Dr Pier-Lorenzo Caruso and Dr Emily Boswell of Procter & Gamble, have now been awarded the Dres.-Volker-und-Elke-Münch Prize for the Promotion of Science and Research by the Dres.-Volker-und-Elke-Münch Foundation. The team is being honoured in recognition of their invention "which provides a new, recyclable, compostable, sustainable and flexible paper barrier laminate in the ecologically, technically and economically significant field of paper-based packaging materials," the award citation reads. "These novel barrier laminates offer a full replacement for the millions of plastic and plastic laminate packaging materials used around the world, without their serious drawbacks such as the formation of microplastics."