How does Kaffeeform bring the loose, grainy coffee grounds into the sturdy form of the cups? The simple answer to that is: biopolymers. Bio-what? Our founder and Kaffeeform material inventor Julian approaches that complex topic for us.
What are plastics, actually?
The collective term plastics includes all polymers that are produced synthetically. For that different raw materials are processed and combined. Most polymers today are made from fossil oil, whose excavation and processing boost our global emissions drastically.
And what are biopolymers then?
A biopolymer is a polymer of natural origin and can include such diverse natural materials as wood, cellulose, chitosan, and chitin. The composition (synthesis) of the biopolymers there happens in cellular processes. The results e.g. are hair or fingernails!
Industrially produced polymers are based on renewable, plant-based components, too. But then the natural process is synthetically generated in industrial facilities. The high quantity of starch required for the process is mostly produced from corn, sugar cane or potatoes.
Are there any ecological advantages?
As bioplastics are based on renewable resources they have many advantages compared to fossil-based plastics. While growing plants remove and absorb large quantities of CO2 that are compensated at disposal. Thus, biopolymers are per se climate neutral.
The key advantage is that biopolymers are based on renewable resources, whereas conventional plastics are based on fossil oil – a limited and increasingly scarce resource.
Ok, so how and why does Kaffeeform use biopolymers?
Biopolymers are like a glue made from nature. They can be combined with different reinforcing materials such as mineral particles or natural fibers to create a biopolymer matrix composite.
And that is exactly what we are doing! The biopolymer is coating the material components coffee grounds, wood chips and fibres and creates a solid compound. They provide the necessary stability and durability for our cups in everyday use. Because of the natural origin of the coffee grounds and the ecological advantages of biopolymers it was the only hardening compound possible for our material development. The resulting technical properties (exceptionally light, sturdy and impermeable) offer a future with many possible applications for our material in exciting products.
What happens at the end of the life cycle?
The actively used recycling of these new compound materials is still at an very early stage. Thus, it is not profitable for the processing industry. The quantities of raw material are still too small for a comprehensive waste separation. So the majority of these waste materials still ends up in thermal incineration. With quantities increasing new recycling systems will surely be established and used.
How popular is the use of biobased plastics today? Do you see a trend?
Right now only around 3% of the globally produced plastics are based on renewable resources. On the global commodities market fossil oil is still very cheap, as this industry segment has been growing into a massive market over the years. Compared to that the young alternative of biobased plastics is facing a massive price and market competition. In the automotive sector as well as for packaging for cosmetics and food sector we see an increase in biobased plastics.
With legislative changes and new standards institutions and politicians can accelerate a change of mindset and drive the processing, application and recycling of biobased plastics. And lastly consumer can contribute to a growing market for this promising material alternative with their daily purchase decisions.