SEABIOPLAS is a European FP7 project working towards using sustainably grown seaweeds as feed for recyclable plastics. To attain the EU's target of 10% of plastics being biodegradable, it is very important to have large-scale production of biomass-based plastics.
A key contributor to bioplastic growth is polylactic acid (PLA) - a biodegradable, compostable and a renewable alternative to petroplastics. Presently, PLA manufacturing depends on food sources such as wheat, corn, sugar cane, and sugar beets to provide the raw material.
As bioplastic manufacture is expected to increase, using these sources will introduce too much competition with the food industry, potentially raising food prices. SEABIOPLAS is an substitute to food crop based PLA that will not interfere with the agricultural supply chain.
Growing seaweed sustainably
Controlled seaweed cultivation enables high sustainability, quality and management of biomass properties and composition and high traceability. Growing seaweeds in integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems renders the technique more sustainable. These systems are based on the principle of using the waste by one species as the diet of the next species.
Most of the phosphorus and nitrogen given to farmed fish get dissipated into the environment, and seaweeds can use these to create new biomass using photosynthesis, hence getting rid of the excessive nutrients from the surroundings.
The other benefits of cultivating seaweeds in IMTA systems include CO2 emission reduction, no deforestation risk, no consumption of freshwater and no pesticides or fertilizers. Seaweed residues are generated after processing the IMTA-cultivated seaweed to produce lactic acid - which can then be used to manufacture biodegradable PLA plastics.