The EU Sustainpack project consortium is incorporating nano-clay particles within the packaging material, with the aim of replacing materials based on petrochemical polymers.
Professor Chris Breen of Sheffield Hallam University, a member of the EU Sustainpack project, said his team was incorporating tiny nano-clay particles in biopolymer films to make them as water resistant, tough and flexible as standard polymer packaging.
In a significant advance, however, project researchers are actually changing the molecular structure of the nanoclays to make them more compatible with, and disperse throughout the biopolymer films, to effectively repel water molecules, said a European Commission briefing note.
Prof Breens researchers are inserting into montmorillonite clay minerals, organic molecules such as chitosan derived from the shells of crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters.
A Sustainpack paper explained: Until now, commercially available clays or microfibres have been used for improving renewable polymers. Now new self-made nanofibres and nanoclays are being developed and tested for this purpose.
The aim was a commercially viable product, added Prof Breen, whose researchers are now developing sample packages for Sainsbury and other project partners.