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Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri, a Mechanical engineer and an MBA -Marketing from ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Accountants), Mumbai, is a result oriented and a business focused…

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Is This The Next Great Threat To The Oil Industry?

Plastic is used throughout the world in applications such as packaging, piping materials, toys, furniture, construction and automobiles. Mostly derived from petrochemicals, plastic is relatively cheap to produce, extremely versatile in its application and is used almost everywhere.

However, it has one drawback which easily outweighs all of its advantages – it’s hardly biodegradable. So where does the waste plastic eventually go? It goes into the landfills and a major portion goes into our waterways (eventually ending up in the ocean gyres), creating a major environmental issue.

We live in the age of plastic. Consider the fact that almost 93 percent of the Americans (above the age of six) would test positive for BPA, which is a harmful plastic chemical. In short, it is important for the world to find an alternative for plastic.

Dutch Scientists have found a way to replace the conventional plastic with a fungus

In a quest to find an alternative for conventional plastic, scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have been working on a fungus that has the potential to replace plastic in the near future. According to Han Wösten who is a professor and microbiologist at Utrecht University, the fungi would evolve like a filament (called mycelium), which would enable them to develop and grow inside different materials along with decomposing and reinforcing them.

What is the potential of this technology?

The potential of using mycelium to develop a biodegradable alternative for plastic is indeed great with U.S. based companies such as Ecovative working to develop these ‘bioplastics.’ Ecovative is a material science company that has been manufacturing and selling its ‘Mushroom Materials,’ which are created using a combination of agricultural waste and mushroom mycelium, and they are a biodegradable-alternative to conventional plastic packaging. Ecovative has already sold its product to companies such as Dell and Crate & Barrel. Related: Can The Saudi Economy Resist ‘Much Lower For Much Longer’?

Another interesting development is the initiation of a ‘growing lab’ by a designer called Maurizio Montalti which explores and evaluates the usage of mycelium for the development of ‘novel materials’ that can be used as an alternative to plastics.

The growing lab objects

Image Source: Corpuscoli.com

Designer Eric Klarenbeek who is based in Netherlands believes that fungus can be molded and grown into different forms much like plastics of different forms. He utilized a 3D printing filament and printed a hollow model, allowing the fungus to grow within it. Once the fungus grows inside the model, it is baked to form the final product, which can be used as conventional furniture.

Will this technology reduce the demand for plastics?

Being biodegradable and environment- friendly is a huge benefit for this new technology. Fungus-based materials also use less energy and resources when compared to conventional plastics that are oil based. Related: Midweek Sector Update: Iran Holding Up Its End Of The Bargain, So Far


Top Issues of the Plastic Industry

Image Source: Dupont.com

(Click to enlarge)

DuPont and Plastic News recently conducted a survey for the plastic industry to understand the most important issues and challenges that they were facing. The top three concerns were sustainability of environment, global competition, and volatile oil prices. Fungus-based replacements for plastics could help address all three of these challenges.

Without the use of petroleum, the new materials would be environment friendly, immune to fluctuations in oil prices, and have predictable production costs. The plastic packaging industry will likely face stiff competition from the likes of Ecovative in the coming few years. Even car giants like Mazda and Ford are now looking to use biodegradable products for manufacturing their automobiles. Mazda recently announced that it has developed the world’s first heat resistant ‘bioplastic’ for making different automobile parts. The newly developed bioplastic produces less carbon, and is produced through a fermentation process. Related: Midweek Sector Update: Iran Holding Up Its End Of The Bargain, So Far

(Click to enlarge)

Image Source: ReportLinker.com

This highlights a potentially emerging trend in which a bioplastic made of fungus would be used by the automobile industry as a replacement to oil-based plastics.

The Future of Plastics?

The U.S. shale boom has been a game changer for the U.S. plastic industry and it has made U.S. one of the cheapest places to produce plastic. There are upcoming projects worth more than $100 billion in the U.S., slated to be completed by 2020, the majority of which are focused on producing Polyethylene- a plastic that is used to make bags, toys, bottles, diapers and other consumer products.

With so many upcoming projects, the production and consumption of plastic isn’t going down anytime soon (at least in the next few years). However, the possibility of having a practical alternative to plastic is indeed a promising one.

By Gaurav Agnihotri for Oilprice.com

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