Film and rigid packaging made from corn or potato starch and vegetable oil derivatives could soon be on European shelves following recent work by scientists at the University of Wales, Bangor.

A team lead by Dr Paul Fowler, head of the University’s BioComposites Centre, has undertaken an EU-funded r&d project in conjunction with Spanish plastics research institute AIMPLAS.The initial plan is to develop new biodegradable films for MAP food packaging offering performance similar to existing EVOH-based substrates.

The scientists have already developed new monolayer films, are working on multilayer versions and foresee the eventual development of a range of biodegradable rigid packs. They have combined the starch molecules found in corn and potatoes with “readily available and inexpensive” palm kernel oil to form a free-flowing powder for subsequent conversion into film at AIMPLAS’s labs.

Dr Fowler says the films already developed fulfil the same functions as non-renewable plastic films, and could be produced for a broadly similar cost, “given sufficient volumes”.

He explains: “The technology is still being proven but on completion of our trials will be available to the producer partners in our project consortium, who include C&C Oils, Organic Farm Foods, Ibanez Extruders, Torres Plastic Film and Italgnocchi. We are also talking to an SME packaging converter interested in taking the technology forward.”