Lab Canada

Research to focus on creating biodegradable polymers from oilseeds

Calgary, AB March 10, 2003 A new research program focusing on creating biodegradable polymers from Alberta oilseeds has received C$500,000 in funding from Calgary-based not-for-profit investment firm AVAC and Alberta’s Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta.

Led by Dr Suresh Narine, a materials physicist, the research program aims to utilize local oilseeds such as canola and flax to produce biodegradable polymers. The objective is to commercialize Alberta-made biodegradable plastics and enter the international market. An economic feasibility study and market analysis will also be conducted.

“Traditional plastics are made from petroleum sources," says Dr Narine. "Creating a biodegradable bio-polymer from a renewable agricultural source would result in a significant lowering of the strain on landfills. This would reduce the need to recycle which has astronomical energy costs."

The majority of biodegradable plastics currently available in North America are being made from castor and corn oil in the United States. “Since canola and flaxseed oil production outweighs that of castor oil in North America, the market opportunity is great,” adds Dr Narine. Particular industries such as disposable medical supplies and food packaging have already expressed interest in bio-plastics, he says.

New platform technologies will be developed which will advance the understanding of the fundamental relationships between molecular structure, processing conditions, and physical functionality of agri-food materials. One technology already created is an innovative and inexpensive approach that enables canola and flaxseed oil to be made into biodegradable polymers.

The initial research team will be comprised of two post-doctorate fellows, two PhD students, four MSc students, technicians and business development managers. Other investors for this project include the University of Alberta, Alberta Research Council, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, Centre for Agri-Industrial Technology, Alberta Agricultural Research Institute, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada, and Alberta Economic Development. The project is expected to be completed in 2005.