Recent studies have identified that the global aggregation of macro-plastic waste is one of the most pressing environmental concerns, having an impact on all living forms, ecological processes, and industries. A unique plant-based protein compound with improved performance compared to synthetic polymers has been developed by Xampla for industrial use.
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The plant-based protein product has comparable mechanical properties to traditional polymers made from fossil fuels but is completely natural and involves no chemical treatment. The article focuses on the utilization of this plant-based protein for various purposes and its advantages over traditional substances.
Degradation of Conventional Plastics: A Major Environmental Threat
Plastic is one of the most important and widely utilized materials around the globe due to its desirable properties, which expedite plastic application in a broad range of applications. A recent article published in the journal Science of The Total Environment has presented a thorough assessment of conventional plastic waste decomposition along with the future perspective of this domain. As per the research, most plastics don't decompose, and it takes hundreds of years for them to break down completely. Consequently, plastics tend to pile up in landfills or nature.
Plastics as a Source of Pollutants
It was calculated that 195 nations produced approximately 400 million tons of plastic waste in 2020, with 8.8 million tons entering the ocean. In terms of soil pollution, many types of plastic wastes pollute the soil by accumulating on the surface or infiltrating the soil layers via numerous channels, including sludge, fertilizer, cultivation wastewater, landfilling, and other sources. In today's society, the combustion of plastic garbage is regarded as one of the primary drivers of air pollution due to the numerous toxins it discharges into the environment.
Market Analysis of Biopolymers and Bioplastics
Market and Market published a market analysis and forecast concerning the non-biodegradable and biodegradable biopolymers and plastics industry and its utilization in several industries such as the automobile industry, agricultural products, soluble and edible films, etc. The worldwide economy for bioplastics and biopolymers is anticipated to increase at a CAGR of 22.7% from $10.7 billion in 2018 to $29.7 billion in 2026. The current linear polymer economy (take-make-dispose) must be replaced with a circular package industry that maximizes productivity and value but minimizes waste.
Based on region, Europe generated the most market revenue in 2021. This expansion is attributable to the rising usage of biodegradable plastics and biopolymers in many industries. In addition, Asia-Pacific is predicted to have substantial expansion throughout the forecast period due to accelerating economic development, urbanization, and industrialization. In Asia-Pacific, the development of the market is also due to rising consumer awareness, a surge in demand for environmentally friendly packaging products, and population expansion.
The Importance of Plant-Based Protein
Due to shifting global conditions, decreased hydrocarbon resources, and an ever-increasing need for plastics, there is a movement to replace traditional plastics with biodegradable polymers. Bioplastics derived from sustainable raw materials are more environmentally friendly and sustainable than hydrocarbon polymers, rendering them a potentially marketable commodity.
A recent article published in the journal Polymers focuses on various plant-based proteins and their relevant sources. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are a powerful biological alternative to petroleum-based plastics; yet, their industrialization is 5–10 times more costly than petrochemical alternatives due to the raw ingredients comprising half of its pricing. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste protein levels are rising and are expected to reach 126 million tons by 2020. Lining foods with edible films replaces artificial packaging, effectively avoids humidity and taste loss, regulates the flow of gasses, extends lifespan, and transports active chemicals such as antioxidants, among other application fields.
Bioplastics derived from plant proteins are increasing in popularity; however, their inferior mechanical and interfacial hydrophobic nature limits their use. In addition, the fabrication of bioplastics necessitates an optimization of the homologous proteins and functional properties found in various sources. Designing packaging-specific characteristics such as pretreatments, choice of physical, biochemical, or cross-linking procedures, use of thermoplastics, and merging of other sources become laborious and raise manufacturing costs. The limited existing studies for comparing the mechanical properties, thermal properties, biocompatibility, and disintegration of the bulk of plant proteins are further obstacles.
Role of Xampla in the Promotion of Plant-based Protein
A first-of-its-kind novel plant-based protein has been developed by a Cambridge-based technological company named Xampla. The fundamental technology has several uses, including soluble coatings to encase dishwashing tablets and household cleaners, microcapsules containing aroma for individual care and household products or protecting vitamins in food and beverages, and edible coating liners that may be used to prepare meals.
Salient Advantageous Features of Xampla’s Plant-Based Protein
The unique plant-based protein was produced using a modular, repeatable, and environmentally friendly production approach that bypasses the insoluble nature of plant proteins. Fifteen years of research and advancement have led to the creation of Supramolecular Engineered Protein, a novel class of systematic protein substances based on the inherent capacity of plant proteins to self-assemble (SEP).
SEP compounds offer amazing functional features, such as high tensile strength and strong oxygen barrier qualities, making them a viable replacement for single-use plastics and microplastic particles for a broad range of commercial purposes. SEP may be used to manufacture gelatin, microcapsules, emulsifying agents, filaments, coatings, and microbeads from a variety of environmentally sustainable derived, plentiful, and inexpensive plant proteins by carefully directing the self-assembly mechanism.
Typically, elevated-purity (c80%) food-grade pea protein has been employed to manufacture SEP. Proteins from plant-based discarded farmland biomass sources, such as green manure crop leftovers, are also being investigated for their potential to be a viable valorized protein resource. Significantly, no synthetic stabilizers or enhancing agents like cross-linkers have been added so that while SEP is extraordinarily strong, it is also rapidly biodegradable (even home-compostable) and will decompose sustainably in the ecosystem.
How the Novel Plant-Based Protein Is Produced
The innovative technique makes use of binary combinations of sustainable solvents that can break down plant protein hydrocarbons at concentrations as high as 15% (w/v) without the need for an additional refining process, therefore circumventing the present immersion constraint of plant proteins. The size of structural proteins has been reduced by industrial processing to boost their solubility. The mixture is then warmed above the sol-gel transformation temperature (about 90°C) to completely dissolve and disintegrate the plant proteins without the need for purification or harsh chemicals.
Advantages of Xampla’s Plant-Based Protein
The innovative manufacturing approach yields self-assembled sheets with tensile qualities that are advantageous to those of plant-protein films made by traditional means and comparable to those of films composed of some synthetic polymers, such as low-density polyethylene.
The sheet-rich structure obtained in the unique plant-based SEP film is typical of silk compounds, and it is the first time such a high concentration of structured intermolecular-sheet structures has been recorded in plant protein materials.
The innovative protein is derived from plentiful, sustainable, bio-based plant protein sources. It guarantees supply security when included in high-volume supply chains. As SEP is derived from food-grade raw materials and processed in a food-safe manner, it opens up new market prospects in consumable products such as films and coatings.
In accordance with industry requirements, the innovative plant-based protein is compostable in domestic decomposition circumstances, as well as in maritime, terrestrial, and freshwater habitats. It surpasses the quality requirements of conventional biodegradability regulations, which evaluate biodegradability concerning carbon dioxide emission but do not account for ecotoxicological factors or the emission of potentially hazardous breakdown products. SEP biodegrades harmlessly in the environment, without producing eco-toxic or hazardous byproducts during partial or total biodegradation.
An Overview of Plant-Based Protein Products
Xampla has fabricated a revolutionary plant-based material as an alternative to solitary-use plastics and developed innovative consumer forms for the market. This substance is a drop-in solvent resin mixture that is compatible with current sealant and screen casting fabrication methods and equipment and offers plastic-like performance.
The first consumable, high-performance film created from plant protein has also been produced. It functions identically to plastic but may be safely incinerated at the end of its life.
This vegan material of the upcoming generations is both edible and heat-stable, opening the door to a world of creativity in the food and beverage sector, substituting thermoplastics and inventing new convenience forms.
A revolutionary microcapsule has been developed targeted towards the fragrance and food fortification industry. To protect against UV radiation, pH imbalance, and pasteurization, the microcapsule technique encases a small droplet of vitamin oil in plant-protein organic material. This provides unmatched protection for vitamins in liquids.
In short, protein made from organic plant sources is expected to play a vital role in decreasing environmental pollution and is going to be widely utilized in several industries.
More from AZoM: Plastic Alternatives: Where Are We Now?
References and Further Reading
Karidis, A., 2022. Xampla Leverages Plant Proteins to Tackle Plastic Pollution. [Online]
Available at: https://www.waste360.com/plastics/xampla-leverages-plant-proteins-tackle-plastic-pollution
Senthilkumaran A. et. al. (2022). Comparison of Protein Content, Availability, and Different Properties of Plant Protein Sources with Their Application in Packaging. Polymers. 14(5). 1065. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/polym14051065
MarketsandMarkets, 2022. Global Bioplastics and Biopolymers Market Size Estimated to Reach a Value USD 63.09 Billion by 2030, at 22.8% CAGR Growth. [Online]
Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/
Packaging Europe, 2022. Unpacking the potential of Xampla’s 100% plant protein film. [Online]
Available at: https://packagingeurope.com/unpacking-the-potential-of-xamplas-100-plant-protein-film/4388.article
Qureshi, W., 2022. Xampla banks on plant protein material. [Online]
Southey, F., 2022. ‘Vegan spider silk’ developed from plant proteins to replace single-use plastics. [Online]
Wray, J., 2022. Xampla launches plant-based fragrance microcapsules. [Online]
Available at: https://www.cosmeticsbusiness.com/news/article_page/Xampla_launches_plant-based_fragrance_microcapsules/179834
Ali, S. S. et. al. (2021). Degradation of conventional plastic wastes in the environment: A review on current status of knowledge and future perspectives of disposal. Science of The Total Environment. 771. 144719. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.14471