Rapidly growing concerns related to environmental and health safety, limiting dependence on petrochemical raw materials, reducing carbon footprint are among the few factors driving inclination towards the use of biopolymers.
There exist several biopolymers today and thanks to the excellent degradation behavior and versatility of PLA:
It is now widely used in the packaging sector right from a niche product in organic trade to premium packaging for branded goods. High-performance grades that are an excellent replacement for PS, PP, and ABS are gaining traction in more demanding applications.
What makes PLA a very versatile polymer and material of choice in several applications today? Let’s check out in detail.
What is Polylactide (PLA)?
PLA or Polylactide (also known as Polylactic Acid, Lactic acid polymer) is a versatile commercial biodegradable thermoplastic based on lactic acid. Lactic acid monomers can be produced from 100% renewable resources, like corn and sugarbeets. Polylactide has been able to replace the conventional petroleum-based thermoplastics, thanks to the excellent combination of properties it possesses.
It is one of the most promising biopolymers used today and has a large number of application such as Healthcare and medical industry, Packaging, Automotive applications, etc.
As compared to other biopolymers, PLA exhibits several benefits such as:
Eco-friendly – It is renewably-sourced, biodegradable, recyclable and compostable
Biocompatible – It is non-toxic
Processability – It has better thermal processability compared to poly(hydroxyl alkanoate) (PHA), poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) and poly(γ-caprolactone) (PCL)
Polylactides break down into nontoxic products during degradation and are biodegradable and biocompatible, reduce the amount of plastic waste.
Typical Characteristics and Properties of Polylactic Acid
- PLA is a bio-based, biodegradable and biocompatible polymer which has proved itself to be a promising alternative for petroleum-based polymers.
- Its properties are on par with currently widely used polymers like PET, PVC, etc.
- High-performance grades that are an excellent replacement for PS (polystyrene), PP (polypropylene), and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) in more demanding applications.
However, in the previous year, the commercial viability of PLA was limited by its high production costs compared to its petroleum-based counterparts. Today, by optimizing the LA and PLA production processes, and with increasing PLA demand, a reduction in its price can be achieved. Most of the commercial L-PLA products are semi-crystalline polymers with a high melting point ca. 180°C and having their glass transition temperature in the range of 55 – 60°C, as it is desirable that PLA should have some crystalline content to benefit the quality of the finished product.
- PLA is a high strength and high modulus thermoplastic with good appearance
- It has high stiffness and strength, comparable to polystyrene (PS) at room temperature
- Less energy is required in its production when compared to other plastics and has better thermal processing.
Further development of composites, nanocomposites, and biocomposites is expanding the properties and potential applications of PLA.
However, there are still some disadvantages associated with the polymer:
- Its glass transition temperature is low (Tg ~ 55°C)
- Its poor ductility, low impact strength, and brittleness limits its use as compared to other thermoplastics such as ABS
- It has a low crystallization rate and processing results mainly in amorphous products
- As compared to PET (aromatic polyester), PLA is much more susceptible to chemical and biological hydrolysis
- It is thermally unstable and has poor gas barrier performance
- It has low flexibility and requires long mold cycles
- It is relatively hydrophobic
- It has a slow degradation rate
Food Contact Approved Bio-Polymer for Packaging
PLA is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved polymer for using a food contact material. It can be used as a food packaging polymer for short shelf life products such as fruit and vegetables.
The typical packaging applications of poly lacticides include as containers, drinking cups, dessert and salad cups, overwrap and blister packages
Extremely Biocompatible Plastic in Healthcare and Medical Industry
Thanks to its biocompatibility and biodegradability, the healthcare and medical industry are making good use of polylactide to manufacture tissue engineering scaffolds, delivery system materials, or covering membranes and different bioabsorbable medical implants.
Due to its versatility, PLA has been investigated for membrane applications (e.g., wound covers), implants and medical devices (fixation rods, plates, pins, screws, sutures, etc.), and dermatological treatments (e.g., facial lipoatrophy and scar rejuvenation).
Growing Use of Polylactide in Structural Applications
Biobased PLA and PLA-based composites are comparatively new for high-end automotive as well as electrical and electronics applications. These composites show better tensile strength and impact characteristics and hence could be used for interior parts of automobile or safety helmets.
Improved material properties enable PLA suitable for use in floor mats, pillar cover, door trim, front panel, and ceiling material. PLA Biocomposites are proposed for use in the spare cover wheel or translucent roof in hybrid concept vehicles.
Fibres and Fabrics made from PLA
Fibers and Fabrics Made from PLA is also suitable for textile fiber applications such as shirts, carpets, bedding, mattress, sportswear, etc. Due to its low moisture absorption, low smoke generation capability as well as excellent resistance to UV light.
The polymer also has potential in mulch films and compostable garden waste bags, structural protective foams, insulation materials, etc.
Biodegradable plastic additive provided by Oxygreen plastics is the most cost affordable solution to enhance the biodegradation of your plastic product. Where does the environment stand on your priority list?
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