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Managing Editor  | July 2017

Bioplastic from soya protein can absorb 40 times its own weight

Researchers at the University of Seville and the University of Huelva, both in Spain, have created a new bioplastic by altering the composition of soya protein so that it could absorb as much as 40 times its own weight in water, according to an article on Phys.org.



This new product, which is organic and biodegradable, is environmentally friendly.
(Technology and design of multi-component products group, University of Seville)


The researchers processed the soya to extract protein through freeze drying, which is a less abrasive method for separating liquid and solid compounds than the standard atomization. After dehydration, the scientists mixed the soya protein with a plasticizer and added it to an injection molding machine.


By adding to its attraction to water, the soya protein went from being able to absorb 12 times its weight in water to 36 times its original weight.


“In fact, the next phase of this project is to study the viability of releasing these compounds in the country using natural dispensers formed from super-absorbent soya,” the article explained. “To do this, they will simulate a piece of land in the laboratory and will place the moulds loaded with micronutrients like mineral salts, iron and zinc, to which they will keep adding water.”


The article added, “Following this line of study, the researchers will continue experimenting with other products like rape[seed] and cotton, from which superabsorbent materials could be obtained with sanitary and agricultural industrial applications.”


The research was recently published in Polymer Testing. The abstract stated:


“A natural superabsorbent polymer (SAP) material based on an acylated soy protein was studied as a green alternative to non-biodegradable SAP. In order to obtain the natural SAPs, different amounts of succinic anhydride were used as acylating agent.


“Once the functionalized protein was obtained, it was mixed thoroughly with glycerol and then molded through a lab-scale injection molding device. Water uptake of samples obtained reached values much higher than those based on unacylated protein.


“Moreover, a greater extent of the acylation reaction led to higher water uptake values for the corresponding SAPs, probably related to their higher hydrophilic character. Water imbibing capacity measurements and thermogravimetrical analysis (TGA) seemed to confirm this. The presence of larger porous regions in acylated samples observed in SEM images could also play a role in their higher water uptake values.


“Furthermore, an increase in the extent of acylation reaction led to plastics with lower Young's modulus and higher extensibility.”

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