Petrochemicals are, like, so last century. Biodegradable, bioderived biomaterials are all the rage, and for good reason too.
Products like plastics, paints, adhesives and lubricants are mostly derived from dwindling supplies of petroleum, an increasingly costly finite resource.
With pressure mounting to reduce our dependence on petroleum products, CSIRO is leading the charge to develop new, sustainable bioplastics from renewable resources and to use plants as biofactories to produce industrial products.
In the early 2000s, CSIRO developed a bio-derived and biodegrable starch-based packaging material. Australian company Plantic was set up to commercialise the product, which was subsequently manufactured in various forms for packaging refrigerated fresh foods such as meats, fish and pasta, and for chocolate trays that were used by customers including Nestlé, Lindt and Cadbury Schweppes.
It is estimated that Plantic bioplastics require 50 per cent less energy to manufacture and have 40–70 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions for production than conventional plastics.
CSIRO is also working with Biofiba Limited to develop a revolutionary material (BioFiba88) that can be moulded into planks to replace timber used in export shipping pallets. Billions of timber export pallets are manufactured and sold globally each year.
More recently, CSIRO used gene silencing technology to develop a new variety of the safflower plant – its oil contains the world’s highest levels of valuable oleic acid. The oil combines high-purity for industrial chemical production with tremendous stability for direct use in industrial lubricants and fluids, creating a versatile, valuable industrial raw material produced above the ground, not below it.