The Grain-4-Lab mission is to reduce plastic waste from laboratories by providing a sound, simple, and sustainable alternative.
Grain-4-Lab was started by lead investigators Dr Jennifer Gaughran, Dr Brian Freeland and Ms Samantha Fahy. They were soon joined by Dr Susan Kelleher and Dr Keith Rochfort. The team saw that vast quantities of plastic waste produced by life science laboratories around the world, along with the waste produced by breweries and distilleries and saw an opportunity to address two problems simultaneously. Their solution: A biodegradable plastic, generated using the waste from breweries and distilleries.
At Grain-4-Lab, we work to replace single use lab equipment with bioplastics. Bioplastics are plastics produced from renewable biological sources. One major advantage of bioplastics is the time they take to break down. Bioplastics take 3-6 months to degrade whereas regular plastics take several hundred years.
However, there are disadvantages to using these bioplastics. Currently, materials like sugar cane, corn starch and straw are used in bioplastic production. Deforestation plays a huge role in global warming. Forests are being stripped to provide room for crops. If bioplastics were to be made with raw materials such as sugar cane, more forests could be stripped to make room. Land used to grow these materials cannot be used to grow food crops. Given the huge challenge of feeding an estimated 10 billion people by 2050, it could be argued that it is unwise to grow less food than we could 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.
The vast majority of plastics are fossil fuel-based. Most of the rest are bioplastics, which are often made using food crops. While this is an improvement on fossil fuel-based plastics, it is not completely sustainable. 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
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 research to further improve 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.