What is the raw material for PLA granules?
Plastic is an integral part of our lives, finding its usage in various industries and products ranging from packaging materials, electronics casing, automobile components, and many others. However, the environmental impact of traditional plastic is a growing concern, as it takes hundreds of years to decompose. This has led to the development of bioplastics, which are derived from renewable resources. One such bioplastic gaining popularity is PLA (Polylactic Acid), which is known for its biodegradability and versatility. In this article, we will explore the raw materials used for the production of PLA granules, shedding light on the process and benefits associated with this eco-friendly alternative.
PLA is a type of biopolymer that is made from renewable plant resources, most commonly corn starch or sugarcane. The primary raw material used in the production of PLA granules is corn or maize. Corn is a widely cultivated crop across the globe, providing a sustainable and plentiful source for the production of PLA. The corn used for the production of PLA is typically non-food-grade corn, which means it is not suitable for human consumption and is specifically grown for industrial purposes.
The process of converting corn into PLA granules involves several steps. Firstly, the corn is cleaned and dried to remove any impurities and moisture content. It is then milled into a fine powder known as corn starch. This corn starch serves as the feedstock for the production of lactic acid, which is the key component of PLA. Through a fermentation process, the corn starch is broken down by naturally occurring bacteria into lactic acid.
The lactic acid is then purified and transformed into a lactide monomer through a process called esterification. The lactide monomers are then used as the building blocks in the polymerization process, where they are heated and undergo a chemical reaction to form long chains, resulting in the formation of PLA polymer. The polymer is then cooled and cut into the form of small pellets or granules, ready for further processing and utilization in various applications.
It is important to note that while corn is the leading raw material for PLA production, other plant-based sources such as sugarcane and cassava are also being explored. Sugarcane acts as a suitable alternative to corn, as it is a fast-growing crop and requires less land for cultivation. Cassava, a root vegetable rich in starch, possesses similar potential as corn and sugarcane for PLA production.
The use of corn or other plant-based raw materials for PLA production offers several advantages. Firstly, it is renewable, as these crops can be grown and harvested on a yearly basis. This reduces the reliance on fossil fuels as compared to traditional plastic production, which relies heavily on petroleum-based resources. PLA also has a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to other plastics, as it releases fewer greenhouse gases during its production.
Additionally, PLA is biodegradable, meaning it can break down naturally into its organic components when exposed to specific conditions, such as high temperatures and moisture. This characteristic makes PLA an attractive option for single-use disposable products and packaging materials, as it reduces the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste in landfills and oceans.
In conclusion, the raw materials used for the production of PLA granules primarily come from renewable sources such as corn. The process involves converting corn starch into lactic acid, which is then polymerized to form PLA. The use of plant-based raw materials in PLA production offers several advantages, including renewability and biodegradability. As the demand for environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional plastic continues to rise, PLA provides a promising solution to reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste.