Food waste as feedstock for 3D printed bioplastics

06 January 2020

The BBI JU-funded BARBARA project is converting extracts of lemon rinds, almond husks and corn by-products into sustainably sourced car parts and building components, replacing fossil-based plastics, protecting the environment and growing the circular economy.


The BARBARA project, supported by the EU’s Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking, is developing novel bioplastics from extracts of vegetal residues for use in fused-filament fabrication (FFF), a versatile and widespread 3D printing technology. By enabling multifunctional biomaterials to replace filaments of fossil-derived thermoplastics in manufacturing, the research will not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels, cut carbon emissions and minimise landfill waste but can also stimulate entirely new circular-economy industries.

‘Agri-food residues and by-products, not only from crop harvesting but also from the processing and production of commercial food, are a major issue. EU countries produce around 110 million tonnes of animal and vegetal waste each year, while globally 33 to 50% of all food produced is never eaten. To address these challenges, the traditional approach to food production and processing needs to undergo a fundamental transformation,’ says BARBARA coordinator Berta Gonzalvo Bas at AITIIP Centro Tecnológico in Spain.

Part of the solution envisioned by the BARBARA team is to use these renewable but until now unwanted agri-food resources in the preparation of advanced polymer materials for demanding engineering applications, substituting and improving upon unsustainable fossil-based plastics. Whereas most commercial bioplastics in use today, such as plastic bags or other small single-use items, have poor mechanical and thermal properties, the BARBARA researchers are targeting far more robust and high-value applications.

Better mechanical and thermal properties

By chemically engineering starch and similar biological compounds from corn industry by-products and incorporating bio-additives derived from lemon, almond husks and pomegranate as well as inorganic reinforcing agents, the team is developing hybrid nano-biocomposite materials. These novel biopolymers display high impact strength and thermal resistance and can be produced in diverse colours with additional features such as anti-bacterial or fragrance-releasing properties.

The new compounds are being tested in several prototype applications including 3D-printed car door handles and fascia dashboard components developed in collaboration with Centro Ricerche Fiat. Moulds for load-bearing truss joints that meet the building industry’s strict thermal and mechanical requirements are also being developed in collaboration with ACCIONA Infrastructure.

Scaled up, the BARBARA partners’ technologies could enable novel biopolymers, bioresins and bioadditives to become viable competitors to fossil-derived plastic materials that are currently produced – and discarded – in vast quantities worldwide.

‘Final products made with these biopolymers should result in a 40% reduction in cost and 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, thereby significantly increasing the sustainability of the overall manufacturing process,’ Gonzalvo Bas says.

By the end of the project, the project coordinator expects at least four biopolymer compounds to be suitable for producing filaments for FFF manufacturing, while six new production processes and methodologies will be closer to commercial viability. These include techniques for extracting and purifying compounds from agri-food waste, processes to chemically enhance the resulting polymers’ thermal and mechanical properties, and 3D printing processes and printing parts.

The partners, which include manufacturing firms, agricultural cooperatives and leading research institutes, plan to evaluate the agri-food extraction processes and manufacturing techniques for commercial exploitation, potentially developing innovative new industries.

‘The use of bio-based and biodegradable materials combined with additives extracted from vegetal residues and by-products is considered to be one of the main pillars of the circular economy. We are transforming agri-food waste into a valuable resource,’ Gonzalvo Bas concludes.

BARBARA is funded through the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking, a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium.

Source: European Commission, Research and Innovation Information Centre