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A new biodegradable, recyclable, flexible paper-based packaging joins the circular economy

27 January 2022

Current regulations are pushing for sustainable packaging to replace fossil-based plastic packaging with bio-based materials. The BBI JU-funded SHERPACK project thinks cellulosic materials will fit the bill.

BBI JU-funded SHERPACK project: A new biodegradable, recyclable, flexible paper-based packaging joins the circular economy

Today's strong trend is to replace fossil-based plastic packaging with bio-based materials, particularly paper and board. These materials should meet the necessary performance to ensure the preservation of food and offer good end-of-life alternatives, such as recyclability and biodegradability. This trend is driven both by regulations, such as the Single-Use Plastics Directive from the EU, and by consumers who are much more aware of environmental concerns than before and are looking for sustainable packaging. In this context, cellulosic materials are ideal, as they can easily be part of a circular economy.

Lighter, flexible paper-based packaging

The SHERPACK project received funding from the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking to develop a flexible paper-based packaging for dry food, such as cereal or coffee. The several layers of this novel material provide a barrier and sealing functionality on the one side and added stiffness while decreasing the overall weight on the other. This breakthrough was achieved through three patented innovative technologies. First, the wet lamination of a microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) layer on the paper substrates provided a superb barrier to grease, oxygen and contaminants. The coating of a specially developed bio-based polymer also provided water and steam barrier; while the liquid water barrier performance was good, the water vapour barrier needs to be improved. Finally, the screen-printing of a starch grid with a specific design improved the stiffness and grip. Even if the steam barrier still needs work, the other performances are outstanding. 'The material that we developed is bio-based, recyclable and biodegradable, and does not contain any aluminium or fossil-based plastic materials,' explains Caroline Locre, SHERPACK project coordinator.

MFC shows promising results

The development was carried out up to a small pilot scale, as SHERPACK was a research and innovation project, and the project ended with an A4-sized proof of concept. Additional work is underway to industrialise the different technologies initiated in the project. In addition, since the end of SHERPACK, a small MFC wet lamination pilot machine has been set up at the French Pulp and Paper Research & Technical Centre Centre Technique du Papier. It is being used in the framework of another BBI JU-funded project called CelluWiz to continue developing the technology to produce small reels of MFC-covered papers and boards. 'Our consortium demonstrated that a bio-based, paper-based, recyclable and biodegradable material can be achieved and provide sufficient protection to pack certain foodstuffs,' concludes Locre. Moreover, it showed the viability at a small pilot scale of several processes that could be used in the future to eliminate part of the aluminium and petrol-based polymers used today in the packaging industry.

Source: European Commission, CORDIS EU research results

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27 January 2022

Current regulations are pushing for sustainable packaging to replace fossil-based plastic packaging with bio-based materials. The BBI JU-funded SHERPACK project thinks cellulosic materials will fit the bill.

BBI JU-funded SHERPACK project: A new biodegradable, recyclable, flexible paper-based packaging joins the circular economy

Today's strong trend is to replace fossil-based plastic packaging with bio-based materials, particularly paper and board. These materials should meet the necessary performance to ensure the preservation of food and offer good end-of-life alternatives, such as recyclability and biodegradability. This trend is driven both by regulations, such as the Single-Use Plastics Directive from the EU, and by consumers who are much more aware of environmental concerns than before and are looking for sustainable packaging. In this context, cellulosic materials are ideal, as they can easily be part of a circular economy.

Lighter, flexible paper-based packaging

The SHERPACK project received funding from the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking to develop a flexible paper-based packaging for dry food, such as cereal or coffee. The several layers of this novel material provide a barrier and sealing functionality on the one side and added stiffness while decreasing the overall weight on the other. This breakthrough was achieved through three patented innovative technologies. First, the wet lamination of a microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) layer on the paper substrates provided a superb barrier to grease, oxygen and contaminants. The coating of a specially developed bio-based polymer also provided water and steam barrier; while the liquid water barrier performance was good, the water vapour barrier needs to be improved. Finally, the screen-printing of a starch grid with a specific design improved the stiffness and grip. Even if the steam barrier still needs work, the other performances are outstanding. 'The material that we developed is bio-based, recyclable and biodegradable, and does not contain any aluminium or fossil-based plastic materials,' explains Caroline Locre, SHERPACK project coordinator.

MFC shows promising results

The development was carried out up to a small pilot scale, as SHERPACK was a research and innovation project, and the project ended with an A4-sized proof of concept. Additional work is underway to industrialise the different technologies initiated in the project. In addition, since the end of SHERPACK, a small MFC wet lamination pilot machine has been set up at the French Pulp and Paper Research & Technical Centre Centre Technique du Papier. It is being used in the framework of another BBI JU-funded project called CelluWiz to continue developing the technology to produce small reels of MFC-covered papers and boards. 'Our consortium demonstrated that a bio-based, paper-based, recyclable and biodegradable material can be achieved and provide sufficient protection to pack certain foodstuffs,' concludes Locre. Moreover, it showed the viability at a small pilot scale of several processes that could be used in the future to eliminate part of the aluminium and petrol-based polymers used today in the packaging industry.

Source: European Commission, CORDIS EU research results

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Commission gives the green light to the successor of BBI JU

The European Commission has agreed on the successor of BBI JU – the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU) in a legislative proposal adopted today. The new partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) is expected to build on the success of BBI JU while stepping up its contribution to the EU’s climate targets, in line with the European Green Deal. The European Parliament and Council will now study the proposal before adopting its final version towards the end of the year.  

The European Commission has adopted today a proposal for the Council Regulation establishing nine joint undertakings under Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation framework programme for the 2021-2027 period. The proposal puts forward CBE JU, the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking, as a programme building on the achievements of BBI JU.

‘This is a great day for the European bioeconomy,’ said Philippe Mengal, the Executive Director of BBI JU. ‘CBE JU will take the success of BBI JU to the next level. It will continue fostering collaboration between the scientific community and industry, and de-risking investments, while placing the sustainability and biodiversity at the heart of every project’.

CBE JU is expected to scale up technologies leading to industrial deployment, thus attracting investments and creating jobs, while reaching towards the goals of the Strategic Innovation Research Agenda 2017 (SIRA). In addition, the partnership should involve a wider range of stakeholders including the primary sector, regional authorities and investors to prevent market failures and unsustainable bio-based processes. To deliver on its objectives, it should only fund projects that are respecting principles of circularity, sustainability and planetary boundaries.  Consequently, CBE is expected to significantly contribute to the EU’s climate targets for 2030, pave the way for climate neutrality by 2050, and advance circular and sustainable production in line with the European Green Deal.

Objectives of CBE JU

Bio-based industries are considered to be a key enabler of the green transition towards a resilient and environmentally sustainable EU economy. If the current proposal is adopted, CBE will build on the success of BBI JU to enlarge its scope and address technologic, regulatory and market challenges of these industries.

CBE JU will develop and expand the sustainable sourcing and conversion of biomass into bio-based products via multiscale biorefineries across sectors and regions in Europe. The partnership will support circular approaches such as the use of biological waste from agriculture, industry and municipal sectors to produce new bio-based products, goods and materials.

One of the main CBE’s targets will be investing in R&I across scientific disciplines that support bioeconomy and stimulating its uptake by the industry, thus helping to deploy bio-based innovation at regional scale with the view to revive rural and marginal regions.

Sustainability and biodiversity will be placed at the heart of CBE JU. Part of the research efforts will focus on increasing the sustainability of the bio-based industry’s production processes, and a robust monitoring system will be put in place to measure the environmental and socio-economic impact of CBE projects.

CBE JU is also expected to engage further with industry and policy stakeholders to contribute to a more coherent, supportive and stable regulatory framework, to raise awareness about the potential of bio-based industries and facilitate its uptake in Europe.

Operation of CBE JU

CBE JU is designed as a partnership between the European Union represented by the Commission, and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). According to the proposed regulation, both public and private partners are committed to investing in the joint undertaking up to €2 billion, divided in two equal parts. A robust governance structure will be put in place to plan and supervise the operations of CBE JU, and keeping the governance structure of BBI JU a Programme Office will ensure the implementation of the initiative

CBE JU is part of nine institutionalised partnerships proposed for areas where public-private collaboration is needed to reach the objectives and impacts of Horizon Europe Framework Programme. By joining efforts, European partnerships should help speed up new solutions, particularly those that can decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in line with the European Green Deal targets, and help achieve the green and digital transitions.

Next steps

The European Parliament and Council will now study the proposal and engage in consultation with the Economic and Social Committee to finalise it. The adoption of the regulation is expected towards the end of the year. 

More information

  • About CBE

Press release by the European Commission

Statement by the Bio-based Industries Consortium

Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing the Joint Undertakings under Horizon Europe

Impact Assessment Report accompanying the proposal and its annexes

European Partnerships in Horizon Europe

  • About CBE’s policy framework

Horizon Europe

European Green Deal

  • About achievements of BBI JU

BBI JU: a high-impact initiative for green recovery of Europe 

Innovation in action - Joint Undertakings for cutting-edge research in Europe

Show more...

The European Commission has agreed on the successor of BBI JU – the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU) in a legislative proposal adopted today. The new partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) is expected to build on the success of BBI JU while stepping up its contribution to the EU’s climate targets, in line with the European Green Deal. The European Parliament and Council will now study the proposal before adopting its final version towards the end of the year.  

The European Commission has adopted today a proposal for the Council Regulation establishing nine joint undertakings under Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation framework programme for the 2021-2027 period. The proposal puts forward CBE JU, the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking, as a programme building on the achievements of BBI JU.

‘This is a great day for the European bioeconomy,’ said Philippe Mengal, the Executive Director of BBI JU. ‘CBE JU will take the success of BBI JU to the next level. It will continue fostering collaboration between the scientific community and industry, and de-risking investments, while placing the sustainability and biodiversity at the heart of every project’.

CBE JU is expected to scale up technologies leading to industrial deployment, thus attracting investments and creating jobs, while reaching towards the goals of the Strategic Innovation Research Agenda 2017 (SIRA). In addition, the partnership should involve a wider range of stakeholders including the primary sector, regional authorities and investors to prevent market failures and unsustainable bio-based processes. To deliver on its objectives, it should only fund projects that are respecting principles of circularity, sustainability and planetary boundaries.  Consequently, CBE is expected to significantly contribute to the EU’s climate targets for 2030, pave the way for climate neutrality by 2050, and advance circular and sustainable production in line with the European Green Deal.

Objectives of CBE JU

Bio-based industries are considered to be a key enabler of the green transition towards a resilient and environmentally sustainable EU economy. If the current proposal is adopted, CBE will build on the success of BBI JU to enlarge its scope and address technologic, regulatory and market challenges of these industries.

CBE JU will develop and expand the sustainable sourcing and conversion of biomass into bio-based products via multiscale biorefineries across sectors and regions in Europe. The partnership will support circular approaches such as the use of biological waste from agriculture, industry and municipal sectors to produce new bio-based products, goods and materials.

One of the main CBE’s targets will be investing in R&I across scientific disciplines that support bioeconomy and stimulating its uptake by the industry, thus helping to deploy bio-based innovation at regional scale with the view to revive rural and marginal regions.

Sustainability and biodiversity will be placed at the heart of CBE JU. Part of the research efforts will focus on increasing the sustainability of the bio-based industry’s production processes, and a robust monitoring system will be put in place to measure the environmental and socio-economic impact of CBE projects.

CBE JU is also expected to engage further with industry and policy stakeholders to contribute to a more coherent, supportive and stable regulatory framework, to raise awareness about the potential of bio-based industries and facilitate its uptake in Europe.

Operation of CBE JU

CBE JU is designed as a partnership between the European Union represented by the Commission, and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). According to the proposed regulation, both public and private partners are committed to investing in the joint undertaking up to €2 billion, divided in two equal parts. A robust governance structure will be put in place to plan and supervise the operations of CBE JU, and keeping the governance structure of BBI JU a Programme Office will ensure the implementation of the initiative

CBE JU is part of nine institutionalised partnerships proposed for areas where public-private collaboration is needed to reach the objectives and impacts of Horizon Europe Framework Programme. By joining efforts, European partnerships should help speed up new solutions, particularly those that can decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in line with the European Green Deal targets, and help achieve the green and digital transitions.

Next steps

The European Parliament and Council will now study the proposal and engage in consultation with the Economic and Social Committee to finalise it. The adoption of the regulation is expected towards the end of the year. 

More information

  • About CBE

Press release by the European Commission

Statement by the Bio-based Industries Consortium

Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing the Joint Undertakings under Horizon Europe

Impact Assessment Report accompanying the proposal and its annexes

European Partnerships in Horizon Europe

  • About CBE’s policy framework

Horizon Europe

European Green Deal

  • About achievements of BBI JU

BBI JU: a high-impact initiative for green recovery of Europe 

Innovation in action - Joint Undertakings for cutting-edge research in Europe

Show less...

REFUCOAT project develops bio-based polymers and active coatings for sustainable food packaging

Inexpensive, fossil fuel-based coated plastics keep foods fresher and safer for consumption, but their detrimental impact on the environment may outweigh their benefits. The BBI JU-funded REFUCOAT project has advanced bio-based alternatives leveraging microorganisms and natural metabolites.

Multilayer polymer food packaging is the industry standard, enabling multiple, necessary functionalities not present in any one alone. However, the multiple bonded layers that act as a barrier to oxygen and moisture are difficult to recycle and the synthetic plastics are not biodegradable, creating a growing end-of-life problem.

Environmental concerns are shared by governments, industries and consumers, but finding recyclable and/or biodegradable monolayer alternatives with the same performance as conventional packaging has been quite challenging.

In this context, the ambitious BBI JU-funded REFUCOAT project brought together 12 multidisciplinary partners all along the value chain from 5 EU countries to address the problem.

REFUCOAT advanced the potential of two promising biodegradable biopolymers and also pushed the boundaries of what might be possible, demonstrating the use of bacteria-eating organisms (bacteriophages) in active coatings.

Breathing life into biopackaging leveraging microbes and natural metabolites

Many microorganisms are miniature production lines for polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), fully biodegradable bioplastics with tuneable properties. The subject of intensive research, high molecular weight PHAs suitable for industrial food packaging applications, had been elusive until now.

REFUCOAT successfully harnessed microorganisms to valorise agri-food waste, leading to biodegradable PHA-based coatings for food packaging.

Polyglycolic acid (PGA) is another biodegradable polymer, and its degradation product (and building block or monomer), glycolic acid, is a natural metabolite. Commonly used as a suture material, its high mechanical strength and excellent gas-barrier properties also make PGA attractive for food packaging applications.

According to Javier Marzo Muñoz, project manager at AIMPLAS and REFUCOAT project coordinator, and Lorena Rodríguez, head of the packaging department at AIMPLAS and REFUCOAT principal investigator: ‘Currently, glycolic acid is produced by either the carbonylation of formaldehyde or the alkaline hydrolysis of chloroacetic acid using toxic or harmful substrates and/or harsh reaction conditions. In REFUCOAT, we developed a gold-based catalytic process to convert monoethylene glycol to PGA for greener production of this biodegradable biopolymer.’

Finally, the team harnessed bacteria’s natural viral enemies to form innovative active barriers that prolong product shelf life. Preliminary data demonstrated encouraging inhibition of salmonella proliferation with the bacteriophages. Further research will support approval by the European Food Safety Authority.

Supporting a sustainable midterm

For more than half a century, multilayer packaging, including non-renewable resources such as aluminium, has kept perishables from perishing quickly. However, it is difficult and expensive to recycle, creating a significant environmental and economic burden.

The diverse expertise of the REFUCOAT consortium was uniquely positioned for a thorough investigation into the development of fully recyclable, bio-based and monolayer food packaging.

‘REFUCOAT developed promising, fully biodegradable bioPGA and PHA polymers for food packaging. Further, the use of bacteriophages as active coatings for food packaging demonstrated clear potential. In the context of these activities, our partners have obtained intermediate, more sustainable packaging solutions,’ Marzo Muñoz summarises.

As the team continues to pursue monolayer, bio-based packages that meet market requirements, scientists hope policies will encourage the greening of the current plastics value chain.

REFUCOAT has prepared a policy brief with specific recommendations to support this via increased sustainability, improved recycling processes and augmented investment in biomass and bio-based industries.

Source: European Commission, CORDIS EU research results

Show more...

Inexpensive, fossil fuel-based coated plastics keep foods fresher and safer for consumption, but their detrimental impact on the environment may outweigh their benefits. The BBI JU-funded REFUCOAT project has advanced bio-based alternatives leveraging microorganisms and natural metabolites.

Multilayer polymer food packaging is the industry standard, enabling multiple, necessary functionalities not present in any one alone. However, the multiple bonded layers that act as a barrier to oxygen and moisture are difficult to recycle and the synthetic plastics are not biodegradable, creating a growing end-of-life problem.

Environmental concerns are shared by governments, industries and consumers, but finding recyclable and/or biodegradable monolayer alternatives with the same performance as conventional packaging has been quite challenging.

In this context, the ambitious BBI JU-funded REFUCOAT project brought together 12 multidisciplinary partners all along the value chain from 5 EU countries to address the problem.

REFUCOAT advanced the potential of two promising biodegradable biopolymers and also pushed the boundaries of what might be possible, demonstrating the use of bacteria-eating organisms (bacteriophages) in active coatings.

Breathing life into biopackaging leveraging microbes and natural metabolites

Many microorganisms are miniature production lines for polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), fully biodegradable bioplastics with tuneable properties. The subject of intensive research, high molecular weight PHAs suitable for industrial food packaging applications, had been elusive until now.

REFUCOAT successfully harnessed microorganisms to valorise agri-food waste, leading to biodegradable PHA-based coatings for food packaging.

Polyglycolic acid (PGA) is another biodegradable polymer, and its degradation product (and building block or monomer), glycolic acid, is a natural metabolite. Commonly used as a suture material, its high mechanical strength and excellent gas-barrier properties also make PGA attractive for food packaging applications.

According to Javier Marzo Muñoz, project manager at AIMPLAS and REFUCOAT project coordinator, and Lorena Rodríguez, head of the packaging department at AIMPLAS and REFUCOAT principal investigator: ‘Currently, glycolic acid is produced by either the carbonylation of formaldehyde or the alkaline hydrolysis of chloroacetic acid using toxic or harmful substrates and/or harsh reaction conditions. In REFUCOAT, we developed a gold-based catalytic process to convert monoethylene glycol to PGA for greener production of this biodegradable biopolymer.’

Finally, the team harnessed bacteria’s natural viral enemies to form innovative active barriers that prolong product shelf life. Preliminary data demonstrated encouraging inhibition of salmonella proliferation with the bacteriophages. Further research will support approval by the European Food Safety Authority.

Supporting a sustainable midterm

For more than half a century, multilayer packaging, including non-renewable resources such as aluminium, has kept perishables from perishing quickly. However, it is difficult and expensive to recycle, creating a significant environmental and economic burden.

The diverse expertise of the REFUCOAT consortium was uniquely positioned for a thorough investigation into the development of fully recyclable, bio-based and monolayer food packaging.

‘REFUCOAT developed promising, fully biodegradable bioPGA and PHA polymers for food packaging. Further, the use of bacteriophages as active coatings for food packaging demonstrated clear potential. In the context of these activities, our partners have obtained intermediate, more sustainable packaging solutions,’ Marzo Muñoz summarises.

As the team continues to pursue monolayer, bio-based packages that meet market requirements, scientists hope policies will encourage the greening of the current plastics value chain.

REFUCOAT has prepared a policy brief with specific recommendations to support this via increased sustainability, improved recycling processes and augmented investment in biomass and bio-based industries.

Source: European Commission, CORDIS EU research results

Show less...

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