16 March 2001

Go for growth in plastics

By Andy Collings

BIODEGRADABLE plastic car parts from Elephant Grass (miscanthus) would appear to be an interesting, if not challenging concept. Midas would be impressed.

But researchers at the University of Warwicks manufacturing group are now collaborating with miscanthus growers to produce just that.

Miscanthus is a hardy perennial grass producing very high yields of bamboo-like cane up to 3m tall. The crop requires little or no pesticide or fertiliser inputs but still manages to yield about 15t/ha. In short, it is a cheap product which is currently used for animal bedding, thatching and fuel for power stations.

Biodegradable plastic in itself is not new – it is used for shopping bags among other things – but the material is deemed to lack strength and to be expensive to improve. The new system uses short lengths of miscanthus fibre to add strength to the plastic, thus reducing costs.

New company Bical, set up by the miscanthus grower group, is working with Warwick Manufacturing Group researchers Nick Tucker and Mark Johnson to further exploit the opportunities presented by the new process.

Plastic car parts, such as wheel trims, constructed from the new material will not degrade during the life of the vehicle but can be biodegraded if they are composted. Safe, environmentally acceptable disposal of conventional plastic products is difficult, with the parts usually ending up in a landfill site. &#42