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fev 08, 2018
Innovation and technology

Brazil leading the way in sustainable plastics innovation

The pursuit towards the development, innovation and distribution of sustainable plastics has become an environmental hot-button issue in the 21st century. Around the world, hundreds of millions of metric tons of conventional plastics are produced each year, depleting fossil fuel reserves and polluting our oceans. The demand for more cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternatives to petroleum plastics is growing, and Brazil’s leading companies and researchers are at the forefront.

For years, Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem has been striving to break new ground in the field of sustainable plastics, and in partnership with U.S.-based 3D printer manufacturer Made in Space, they are now able to produce an environmentally-friendly plastic and use it to create necessary tools and parts on the International Space Station (ISS).

This latest development is an achievement of Braskem’s "Printing The Future" project, which aims to replace a large quantity of the materials used on the ISS with non-petroleum plastics, leading to more efficiency, cost-effectiveness and sustainability.

Braskem and Made in Space have adopted Green Plastic, which is a 3D printing material made from a sugarcane resin, to be used for printing objects for use by astronauts at the ISS. The previous process of manufacturing materials for the ISS was costly and time-consuming, involving the development of the tools on Earth, before transporting them into space. Now, the procedure has become much more efficient.

"We've decreased the number of parts sent. The good thing about 3D printing is that you can send an email and print the part [on the ISS]. We've reduced cost and time," explained Everton Simoes Van-Dal, technological engineer of Braskem, during the Wired Festival in Rio de Janeiro in November.

This great step forward also paves the way for the potential to recycle plastics on the ISS, to further improve the sustainability and autonomy of space missions.

While Braskem has made its sustainable plastic out of sugarcane, a team of Brazilian researchers are innovating even further and have been able to develop their own biodegradable plastic using mango pits. Brazil is the world’s leading producer of the fruit but up to 60 percent of the 1 million tons of mangoes produced in the country each year becomes waste material.

Since 2014, 30 researchers from four different Brazilian institutions have been searching for a way to reuse this industrial residue, by mixing two different organic biopolymers to the mango pits, and finally they believe to have found a viable solution. "It has a number of possibilities for use in the areas of food, medicine and leisure,” said Rossana Thiré, one of the researchers involved in the project.