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Material Issue

Posted: November 7, 2006, from the November 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 2 of 5

Composite materials have demonstrated improved properties in glass, talc and other filled polymeric matrices. Adding nano-enhanced materials to polymers and plastics results in an increase in the nanocomposite material strength and modulus without sacrificing ductility, improved uniformity of finished materials, reduced component weight and improved performance at higher temperatures.

Overall, this technology could reduce the amount of raw petroleum materials needed to create the same packaging products. “There are many potential applications for nanotechnology in packaging,” said Riedlinger. “Our technologies and use of halloysite nanotubes as additives in some polymers have shown promise for improving strength attributes, which may lead to reductions in materials needed for packaging. Additionally, we are researching nanocomposite material applications for future applications.”

These polymers create plastic packaging commonly used in the cosmetic and personal care industry, but nanotechnology looks to crack the divide between traditional packaging and cosmetics, as nanotubes become intrinsic to the product inside the composite packaging as a delivery system for active ingredients.

PLA: Homegrown Packaging

While nanotechnology benefits petroleum-based polymers, packaging with petroleum raw materials bring challenges directly related to volatile pricing in the market. As a result, raw material providers are looking for a renewable material source with stable pricing.

Polylactide (PLA), a biodegradable polymer discovered in the 1890s, has found a route to market in the form of biodegradable packaging. The primary raw material is dextrose, a natural sugar derived from the starch in corn kernels and a renewable resource. PLA is particularly attractive as a sustainable alternative to petrochemical-derived products, since the lactate can be derived from the fermentation of starch-rich agricultural by-products—such as maize, sugar and wheat.