Yao then led a comprehensive life cycle assessment to test the environmental impacts of the bioplastic against commons plastics. Sheets of the bioplastic were buried in soil, fracturing after two weeks and completely degrading after three months; additionally, researchers say the bioplastic can be broken back down into the slurry by mechanical stirring, which also allows for the DES to be recovered and reused.
“That, to me, is what really makes this plastic good: It can all be recycled or biodegraded,” says Yao. “We’ve minimized all of the materials and the waste going into nature.”
The bioplastic has numerous applications, says Liangbing Hu
, a professor at the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland and co-author of the paper. It can be molded into a film that can be used in plastic bags and packaging — one of the major uses of plastic and causes of waste production. Hu also says that because the bioplastic can be molded into different shapes, it has potential for use in automobile manufacturing, as well.
One area the research team continues to investigate is the potential impact on forests if the manufacturing of this bioplastic is scaled up. While the process currently uses wood byproducts in manufacturing, the researchers say they are keenly aware that large-scale production could require usage of massive amounts of wood, which could have far-reaching implications on forests, land management, ecosystems and climate change, to name a few.
Yao says the research team has already begun working with a forest ecologist to create forest simulation models, linking the growth cycle of forests with the manufacturing process. She also sees an opportunity to collaborate with people who work in forest-related fields at YSE — an uncommon convenience.
“It’s not often an engineer can walk down the hall and talk to a forester,” says Yao.
Yao, an emerging scholar in the field of industrial ecology
, joined the YSE faculty last year. Her research examines the environmental and economic impacts of emerging technologies and industrial processes., integrating interdisciplinary approaches from the fields of industrial ecology, sustainable engineering, and systems modeling to develop techniques that promote more sustainable engineering approaches and policies.
– Josh Anusewicz firstname.lastname@example.org