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Sci-Tech


Researcher from Mexico makes bioplastics from cactus juice

Nopal is a common name in Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti, the English word for which is prickly pear


researcher-from-mexico-makes-bioplastics-from-cactus-juice

Sandra Pascoe, a researcher from the University of the Valley of Atemajac (Univa), Mexico used the most common variety of edible nopal cactus (the opuntia ficus-indica and the opuntia megacantha) better known as cactus juice to make a biodegradable and bio-based plastics (bioplastics).

Nopal is a common name in Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti, the English word for which is prickly pear. “The plastic is basically made out of the sugars of nopal juice, containing the monosaccharides and polysaccharides. The sugars, pectin and organic acids in the juice give it a very viscous consistency. Thanks to the viscosity, a solid material can be produced,” Sandra claimed.

Glycerol, natural waxes, proteins and colorants are mixed with the juice after it has been decanted to remove its fiber. The formula is then dried on a hot plate to produce thin sheets of plastic, she was quoted as claiming in her research.

The process was registered with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) in 2014 and the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) has contributed funding to advance the project. Pascoe’s invention comes in the wake of a worldwide campaign against use of plastics that has been causing a great deal of pollution to the environment.

Pascoe is presently collaborating with the University of Guadalajara Center for Biological and Agricultural Sciences to determine how quickly and under what conditions this variety of plastic will decompose.

“We’ve done very simple degradation tests in the laboratory. For example, we’ve put it in water and we’ve seen that it does break down [but] we still have to do a chemical test to see if it really completely disintegrates. We’ve also done tests in moist compost-like soil and the material also breaks down,” Pascoe said.

The Cactus bioplastics could be used to make shopping bags, cosmetic containers, jewelry and toys. They’re currently testing how much weight the plastic can bear to determine what other uses the bioplastics will have. Next steps towards commercialization will be to devise a machine that can make prototypes of the plastic bags .

Pascoe is applying for a patent at IMPI. She said she would be open to let other companies use the process under a licensing agreement.

Meanwhile, according to a Greenpeace report, seven of the eight sea-surface water samples tested contained microplastic, such as microfibres (at least one microplastic element per 1 litre sample).

In addition, nine samples were taken using a manta trawl and analysed for microplastics. Microplastic fragments were detected in two samples. The samples were gathered during a three-month Greenpeace expedition to the Antarctic from January to March 2018.

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