Environmentally friendly barrier coatings pose numerous applications.

Jeff Catchmark began experimenting with biomaterials that might be used instead of plastics a decade or so ago out of concerns for sustainability. He became interested in cellulose because it is the largest volume sustainable, renewable material on earth. Image: Penn State

Jeff Catchmark began experimenting with biomaterials that might be used instead of plastics a decade or so ago out of concerns for sustainability. He became interested in cellulose because it is the largest volume sustainable, renewable material on earth. Image: Penn State

Team: Jeffery Catchmark, Snehasish Basu, Adam Plucinski
Partner: Southern Champion Tray (Chattanooga, TN)

Global production of plastic is approaching 300 million tons per year. In a recent year, more than 29 million tons of plastic became municipal solid waste in the United States. It is anticipated that 10 percent of all plastic produced globally will become ocean debris, representing a significant ecological and human health threat. About half of the plastic that we dispose of in recycling bins has typically been shipped to China, which has recently issued new restrictions on these imports.

A Penn State team developed a completely compostable material consisting of treated cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan, which is derived from the mountains of leftover shells from lobsters, crabs, and shrimp consumed by humans. Both of these building blocks, which are already used in the food industry and other industries, are inexpensive, plentiful, and renewable. The team has applied for a patent on the material.

These environmentally friendly barrier coatings have applications ranging from water-resistant paper, to coatings for ceiling tiles and wallboard, to food coatings to seal in freshness. The material may be a competitive barrier alternative to synthetic polymers, such as Styrofoam, solid plastic used in cups and bottles, and the laminate applied to paper board.

The material’s strong, insoluble adhesive properties are useful for packaging and other applications, such as better-performing natural wood-fiber composites for construction and flooring. The material could be incorporated into foods to reduce fat uptake during frying and maintain crispness. Since the coating is essentially fiber based, it is a means of adding fiber to diets.

The potential reduction of pollution is immense if these barrier coatings replace millions of tons of petroleum-based plastic every year. The team is working to develop commercialization partners in different industry sectors for a wide variety of products.

Funding

USDA NIFA and Hatch Appropriations

News

Quote

“We are trying to take the last step now and make a real impact on the world, and get industry people to stop using plastics and instead use these natural materials.” —Jeffery Catchmark

Thematic Area

Biologically Based Materials and Products

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Office for Research and Graduate Education

Address

217 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802-2600