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Researchers develop sustainable alternative to plastic

16th December 2022

Academics from Northumbria University have developed a new biopolymer material which is stronger, safer, and more sustainable than plastic.

The material is derived from organic matter meaning it is non-toxic and therefore could be used for a wide variety of purposes, including as an alternative to plastic bags and in food packaging.

It can also be dissolved in warm water, with the liquid then used as a fertiliser – meaning it is completely sustainable.

And unlike plastic, which is highly flammable, the new biopolymer is flame retardant, making it much safer and widening its potential use to include construction.

Caption:Dr Ulugbek Azimov (right) and Research Fellow Iftheker Ahmed (left), holding the new biopolymer material samples. The material has been developed by a team of researchers led by Dr Ulugbek Azimov, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Northumbria University.

He is now seeking industrial partners to work with to develop the material further, leading to the commercialisation of the product.

As Dr Azimov explains, “The new biopolymer can conduct electricity, so can be used in electronics applications, medical devices, food processing systems, military and defence, and industrial applications.

"It also has a very high relative permittivity, which means it can be used in supercapacitors to store high electrical charges and could also be used within the electric vehicle industry.

"Supercapacitors are used in applications requiring rapid charge and discharge cycles, rather than long-term compact energy storage. For example, in cars, buses, trains, cranes and elevators, for regenerative braking, short-term energy storage, or burst-mode power delivery.

“With the rapid growth in the electrification of transport, the number of these supercapacitors will significantly increase in the future, requiring proper utilisation and recycling of their dielectric materials, which this new material will allow for.”

The material also addresses the global challenge of plastic pollution, with no waste generated in its production and zero-carbon recyclability.

As Dr Azimov concludes: “Based on the multifunctionality of the new biopolymer material, we are developing products for different commercial applications through a cost-effective, zero-carbon processes which addresses the circular economy.”

The video below demonstrates some of new material’s unique properties. 

To find out more, contact Dr Azimov at ulugbek.azimov@northumbria.ac.uk

Northumbria University has been named University of the Year 2022 in the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) Awards and was ranked highly for its engineering research power in the Research Excellence Framework 2021, with 90% of its research rated as either world-leading or internationally excellent.

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