Our mission is to replace single use lab equipment with bioplastics. So, what are bioplastics? Bioplastics are plastic materials produced from renewable biomass sources. Currently, materials such as sugar cane, corn starch and straw are used in bioplastic production. One major advantage to bioplastics is the degradation time. Bioplastics take 3-6 months whereas regular plastics take several hundred years to degrade. While degradation time is very important in terms of controlling our waste production, there are also disadvantages to using bioplastics made from sources such as sugar cane. One issue is land use. Currently deforestation plays a primary role in global warming. Forests are being stripped to provide room for crops. If bioplastics are to be produced using raw materials such as sugar cane they will inevitably contribute to further deforestation. Further, many of the crops currently being grown to produce bioplastics could also provide food for humans. Given the huge challenge of feeding an estimated 10 billion people by 2050, it could be argued that it is unwise to divert vital food crop production away from human mouths in order to produce plastics. Our project involves an innovative approach which capitalises on waste from the Irish food and drinks industry as a means of replacing food crops as the raw material to make our project more sustainable.
Currently, 99% of plastics are fossil fuel-based. As it stands, most bioplastics are made using food crops as feedstock. While this is an improvement on fossil fuel-based plastics, it is not completely sustainable. Here at Grain-4-lab we aim to produce bioplastic using waste products from the Irish food and drinks industry as feedstocks to produce bioplastic laboratory components. This feedstock can then be composted and used to fertilise the fields for the next batch of crops, and the cycle continues. You can view the full process here.
where we are today
While we are still a relatively new project, Grain 4 Lab has set about the task of developing a compostable alternative to lab plastics from a sustainable source. Our team has expanded and we are currently conducting background research to assess the viability of our solution and the ways in which that solution can be scaled up. We are also looking at the carbon footprint of our project, to ensure that the solution is not worse than the problem.
We are currently exploring 3D printing as a means of producing our laboratory plastics. We hope to replicate laboratory equipment using PLA and hopefully some blends.
We are also exploring injection moulding as a means of producing lab equipment from our bioplastic. This is often more efficient than 3D printing when you are manufacturing high volumes of equipment. We are dedicated to choosing whichever option will be the most environmentally friendly given the volumes we are producing at the time.