Biodegradable Plastic under Maritime Conditions
Contributing to Keeping Plastic Garbage out of Our Seas
Leibniz Universität Hannover, the Hannover University of Applied Sciences and Hydra Marine Sciences GmbH, are currently working together with other partners on the development of bio-based plastics that directly biodegrade in the sea. The team of researchers has so far created different demonstration components in order to test their degradation behavior. These materials would be utilized as an alternative to products whose entry into the sea cannot always be avoided. A large example of this is the products utilized by fisheries in their everyday activities.
Marine litter – marine pollution with solid waste – is an increasing environmental problem. It is estimated that 10 million tons of waste are released into the world’s oceans each year, whereas around 70% is plastic. "Of course, waste reduction is the top priority as a solution strategy, but there are areas where plastic inputs cannot be completely avoided, for example, in fisheries and aquaculture. Here, polymers that degrade in the sea would be far more sensible,” explains project leader Prof. Hans-Josef Endres.
Creating Fishing Supplies not Susceptible to Wear and Tare
Currently the MabiKu project, (marine biodegradable, bio-based plastics) is primarily focused on the coastal North and Baltic Seas in Germany. As a first step, researchers have determined plastic products that often unintentionally end up in these locations. For example, it is foreseen in the project to develop a fiber material for bio-based nets, or a so-called "Dolly Rope", together with the manufacturer Engel-Netze GmbH. The product in consideration will be a mat produced specifically to combat abrasion in bottom fishing practices. Normally, these mats protect the net but quickly fray or break off due to contact with the ground. This creates issues when the fine, loose, threads from the mats are deposited into the sea, as they are fatal to animals that may digest them. In addition to this production goal, the team would also like to work on marine-degradable injection molding components and films for packaging materials.
Working against Premature Degradation
Materials that are especially promising in these cases work best when they are optimized to reach their full potential. When combined with novel blends, enriched with fillers, and processed into demonstration products of different dimensions, this provides researchers the chance to carry out a very thorough examination on marine degradation. In addition to the fibers and foils, a compact injection-molding component has also been foreseen within the project.
A particular challenge in this regard is choosing the correct mix of materials in which the products in the “use phase” fulfil their original purpose for as long as possible, (and function as well as possible) and only disintegrate when they have become "marine waste". This is particularly difficult for products that are also used in the sea as intended, such as fishing nets used multiple times that must remain sturdy. "Here, for example, only coatings that lose their protective function after prolonged contact with water or the ground can be seen as a possible technical approach," explained Endres.
However, MabiKu's overall goals, (which will not be fully achieved over the three-year period) involve the establishment of an officially recognized certification method of the degradation of marine biopolymers, and the launch of the first products developed in response to the issue. The project partners, as well as the certifier DIN CERTCO, wish to continue to pursue these very critical goals, even after the project’s end.
The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) through the project agency Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e. V. (FNR). Information and contact persons are available on www.fnr.de under the registration numbers 22005417 , 22025118 and 22028618 .
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