Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research

Germany

An organic coating for plastic that makes fresh food packaging compostable.

Circular Materials Challenge winner

Category 2: Combining materials that nature can handle

The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC has developed a coating with silicate and biopolymers that can be used in many different food packaging applications protecting biopolymer packaging and food against premature degradation and is fully compostable.

How does this innovation accelerate the transition to a circular economy?

The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research has been developing high-barrier coatings based on materials with glass-like structures, called ORMOCER®, for many years. These materials combine the key properties of their components: high transparency, hardness, chemical and thermal stability (glass-like); low processing temperatures, high functionality, toughness (polymer-like); and flexibility (silicone-like). A coating made from this hybrid material greatly improves the gas and vapour barriers of packaging. However, the original ORMOCER® is not bio-based or biodegradable. Since the main problem of bio-based plastics is lack of good barriers, Fraunhofer has developed a new class of biodegradable coatings called bioORMOCER®, which provide compostable alternatives to non-recyclable, multi-layer packaging.

What’s new?

The new coatings can improve the performance of bio-based and biodegradable packaging, which alone cannot guarantee the required minimum shelf life of many food products. The coatings will therefore directly enhance the ability of biodegradable materials to compete with non-recyclable, multi-layer films.

3 questions for the team

Fraunhofer Team

Dr. Sabine Amberg-Schwab

Head of Functional Coatings Department

  • What led you to come up with this idea?

  • The huge environmental problems caused by non-recyclable plastics made us very concerned and we asked ourselves the question: how can we contribute with our development work to making packaging materials more fit for purpose? While compostable packaging films are already commercially available, they struggle to find use in food packaging as they do not have all the desired properties, including providing a sufficient barrier against water vapour or oxygen, tensile strength, and abrasion resistance. Our idea was to improve the properties of bio-based and biodegradable films by developing a biodegradable coating.

  • What makes your idea stand out and how will it help to accelerate the transition to a Circular Economy for plastics?

  • Our innovation is a good example of a circular material. We use organic waste like fruit residues to make our coatings and therefore do not compete with food crops. From these biological residues biopolymers are extracted, which are chemically modified to function as new bio-based and biodegradable precursors for our coatings. The coatings are transparent and drastically improve the ability of bio-based plastics to preserve food, while still being compostable.

  • What excites you the most about the New Plastics Economy Accelerator Programme?

  • Participating in the accelerator programme is an excellent opportunity to promote our coatings and establish contacts with possible business partners. We are excited to work with pioneers and experts in the plastic, packaging, and recycling industries and know that all partners will benefit from a valuable knowledge transfer. We are convinced that our innovation has the potential to significantly contribute to a more sustainable packaging industry