‘We’ve replicated the phenomenally water-repellent structure of lotus leaves to deliver a unique type of bioplastic…’
Researchers from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, have developed a bioplastic which they say is self cleaning, sturdy, sustainable and compostable. Publishing their research in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, the team says that the new material is inspired by the lotus leaf.
‘We’ve replicated the phenomenally water-repellent structure of lotus leaves to deliver a unique type of bioplastic that precisely combines both strength and degradability,’ said Mehran Ghasemlou, RMT PhD researcher and lead author of the study. Lotus leaves are known for having some of the most water-repellent surfaces on earth due to the leaf’s surface structure which comprises tiny pillars topped with a waxy layer.
To replicate the leaf surface, the RMIT team of scientists and engineers synthetically engineered a plastic made of starch and cellulosic nanoparticles. The surface of this bioplastic was then imprinted with a pattern that mimics the structure of lotus leaves, then coated with a silicon-based organic polymer as a protective layer. Tests indicated that the surface of the bioplastic not only repels liquids and dirt, but it retains these properties after being scratched with abrasives and exposed to heat, acid and ethanol.
Producing the new bioplastic from starch and cellulose and does not require complicated equipment and would be easy to scale-up to a roll-to-roll production line. The plastic can be used in applications such as fresh food and takeaway packaging, the research team said. The researchers also noted that while biodegradable plastics are a growing market, most of these require industrial processes and high temperatures to break them down. The new plastic has been found to degrade naturally and quickly in soil.
‘Our ultimate aim is to deliver packaging that could be added to your backyard compost or thrown into a green bin alongside other organic waste, so that food waste can be composted together with the container it came in to help prevent food contamination in recycling,’ Ghasemlou added.