People and Leaders PLA

Interview with Floreon’s Bioplastics Expert, Andrew Gill

Plastics were increasingly in the news towards the end of 2018 with ever greater scrutiny of their impact upon the environment. One side effect of this has been a greater focus on alternatives such as the bioplastic PLA. Dr Andrew Gill, Technical Director of Floreon gives us his thoughts on the rise of PLA, where we are today and what the future looks like.
  • When and how did you start working in Bioplastics?

I became involved with bioplastics early on in my career and have stayed in the field ever since. My first experience with PLA was during my PhD, where we were developing custom PLAs for biomedical applications. When that came to an end, I joined Floreon as a researcher as part of a two year project, shortly after the initial patents for their technology had been filed. When that came to an end I was offered the chance to stay with the company, initially as technical manager and eventually becoming Technical Director as we became a standalone bioplastics company.

  • What are the advantages of bioplastics?

If we’re talking about plastics that are both biobased and biodegradable like PLA, there are a number of key advantages. The key thing that is often looked is the potential to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and utilise it as a feedstock. Today we use plants to do this via photosynthesis, sugars are created which can then be used to make bioplastics. As technology progresses, we’ll move onto more advanced feedstocks such as algae or even methane, making the process more efficient and potentially creating a carbon sink.

The compostability of bioplastics is another major advantage, providing an appropriate collection system is available. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown how a mixture of materials with the same end of life options (e.g. food waste + compostable bioplastics) is far better for the environment compared to mixtures of materials that need to be separated, but often aren’t (e.g. polystyrene cutlery + food waste). Bioplastics can make collection far simplerand overcome issues with food waste contamination of plastics in recycling.

With all of the above in mind, the key aspect of any bioplastics should be the same as any other plastic, functionality. Bioplastics have to offer equal or better functionality in comparison to the plastics they replace. If bioplastics are seen as an inferior but green option, then they will remain a niche product. At Floreon we offer bioplastics that outperform the plastics they are replacing, creating the potential for packaging and other products to be light weighted by using the performance of the material.

  • What are the future PLA applications?

The exciting thing about PLA is that it continues to evolve, it’s a material that’s still relatively young in commercial terms compared to other plastics such as PET. People are still discovering or refining ways to take its performance further, through compounding and other processes. The early applications for PLA (fibres, disposable cutlery, 3D printing, rigid packaging) have become quite established in certain niches (withstanding current incoming legislation regarding single use plastics) and the really exciting developments are now happening in more engineering polymer type applications, such as white goods, automotive interiors and consumer products.

A lot of people have become fixated on PLA as a ‘biodegradable’ polymer and don’t realise that with the right formulation, it can be highly durable and fulfil roles currently filled by engineering polymers such as ABS.

  • What differentiates Floreon PLA from other PLA compounds?

Floreon have developed an exciting piece of technology that has multiple benefits as a PLA compound. Our formulations are all based on the combination of PLA with small amounts of other certified compostable (EN13432) biopolymers which enhance flow and product physical properties. The key of our patent is the synergistic effect of the additives we use in PLA which give better than expected results in terms of toughness and strength. We can build on this to tailor thermomechanical properties and even degradability to our customers’ requirements as needed.

  • What’s next for Floreon in 2019?

We had an interesting year in 2018 and it was a year of change. We managed to secure a significant amount of private investment in the company to help us implement some much needed changes and keep progressing our technology. We also had some very exciting first orders from well recognised brands.In 2019 we’re looking to grow our presence in the market through strategic partnerships.

As a relatively small and technology focused organisation we’re looking to work with people such as compounders who can use our technology and take it into their customers. Our role is to support these organisations by providing our expertise and formulations for them to use so that they can meet their customers demands with a bioplastic. We already have some great partnerships in the UK which are working well for us but the intention now is to take this into new application sectors and territories.

Andrew Gill, Technical Director at Floreon
Andrew Gill, Technical Director at Floreon

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