Corn starch has long been the preferred base for this kind of plastic because the crop can be harvested in large quantities on a global basis. Likewise, the technologies for milling it and processing it in to corn starch are highly developed and readily available.
However, a new research initiative by the Canadian government aims to develop improved means of processing potato starch for this purpose, as well as four other key areas.
A Federally-funded network, led by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada will rely on scientists from both government and academia on the area of potato starch bioplastics, together with projects to develop biopesticides, healthier potato varieties, pharmaceutical extracts and new extraction methods.
Getting down to the bottom of potato starch
The researchers will examine every aspect of potato starch, from its molecular properties, all the way through to the final bioplastic product.
The CAD$5.3m project aims to give Canadian potato farmers a boost, while also serving key industries and market growth areas.
Key to the bioplastics area of the project will be research into the development of new potato varieties with enhanced starch properties, crucial to the production of industrial starch suitable for bioplastics.
Enhancing potato starch processing
Currently industrial potato starch is produced from a patented process which converts it into a plastic-like resin that can be blow molded into a variety of different packaging, including bottles for products like shampoo and body lotion, cream pots and make-up casing.
The process involved in producing the resin is said to be more efficient than that for standard plastics and crucially avoids petrochemicals while also increasing the ability to recycle the packaging, hitting all the right eco-friendly buttons.
However, the Canadian researchers believe that further research will enable them to improve the processing of potato starch for bioplastics, helping to increase its applications, improve water resistance, stronger mechanical properties and greater processing capabilities.