Performance Spectrum of Home-Compostable Biopolymer Fibers Compared to a Petrochemical Alternative
Manufacturers of technical polymers must increasingly consider the degradability of their products due to the growing public interest in topics such as greenhouse gas emissions and microplastic pollution. Biobased polymers are part of the solution, but they are still more expensive and less well characterized than conventional petrochemical polymers. Therefore, few biobased polymers with technical applications have reached the market. Polylactic acid (PLA) is the most widely-used industrial thermoplastic biopolymer and is mainly found in the areas of packaging and single-use products. It is classed as biodegradable but only breaks down efficiently above the glass transition temperature of ~60 &deg;C, so it persists in the environment. Some commercially available biobased polymers can break down under normal environmental conditions, including polybutylene succinate (PBS), polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and thermoplastic starch (TPS), but they are used far less than PLA. This article compares polypropylene, a petrochemical polymer and benchmark for technical applications, with the commercially available biobased polymers PBS, PBAT and TPS, all of which are home-compostable. The comparison considers processing (using the same spinning equipment to generate comparable data) and utilization. Draw ratios ranged from 29 to 83, with take-up speeds from 450 to 1000 m/min. PP achieved benchmark tenacities over 50 cN/tex with these settings, while PBS and PBAT achieved over 10cN/tex. By comparing the performance of biopolymers to petrochemical polymers in the same melt-spinning setting, it is easier to decide which polymer to use in a particular application. This study shows the possibility that home-compostable biopolymers are suitable for products with lower mechanical properties. Only spinning the materials on the same machine with the same settings produces comparable data. This research, therefore, fills the niche and provides comparable data. To our knowledge, this report is the first direct comparison of polypropylene and biobased polymers in the same spinning process with the same parameter settings.