The latest episode in the American Chemical Society's (ACS) award-winning podcast series, "Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions," focuses on development of a new ultra-light biodegradable foam plastic material made from two unlikely ingredients: The protein in milk and ordinary clay.
The material could be used in numerous products, researchers report in the ACS' Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal. The finding comes amid ongoing concern about plastic waste accumulating in municipal landfills, and reliance on imported oil to make plastics.
David Schiraldi, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University, explains that 80 percent of the protein in cow milk is a substance called casein, which already is used in making adhesives and paper coatings. But casein is not very strong, and water can wash it away. To beef up casein, and boost its resistance to water, he and his team blended in a small amount of clay and a reactive molecule called glyceraldehyde, which links casein's protein molecules together.
"We believe this new 'green' foam plastic can have a wide range of uses," says Schiraldi. "For example, we can see it in furniture cushions, insulation, packaging and many other products. By replacing standard foam this could have an important impact on better protecting the environment from debris."