The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate commercially feasible bioplastic cropping containers that will fulfill all of the functions of petroleum-based plastic containers without their drawbacks. The biopolymers are being prepared from numerous biorenewable proteins, natural oils, carbohydrates, and composites of these and other natural materials. We are also considering the use of recently developed natural oil-based coatings to enhance water resistance and longevity of containers constructed from proteins, natural oils, carbohydrates, and other composites.
Thirty-four different types of biorenewable polymers and composites are being screened to evaluate their potential for use in container crop production and to determine the rate of biodegradation in soil under landscape conditions. These containers are made from a variety of biobased materials including soy protein, wheat starch, two commercially available plant starch-based plastics PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) and PLA (polylactic acid), and natural fibers (wood, paper, and coconut husk). PHA and PLA were also blended with dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), corn stover, and nano-clay to form biocomposite materials.
Plants from the trial are being transplanted in a garden plot at the Horticulture Research Station to assess the long-term growth and health of plants produced in biobased containers. The landscape trial will allow us to evaluate the biodegradation rate of containers and to quantify the plant growth benefit from containers as they degrade in the soil near the plant roots. In additional trials, two species of plants are grown in containers for eight weeks, as we look more closely at water use efficiency and the fertilizer effect provided by container degradation during greenhouse production.
James Schrader, Gowrishanker Srinivasan, Samy Madbouly, Kyle Haubric, Kunwei Liu, David Grewell, William Graves, Michael Kessler