My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How University of Bath CSCT biodegradable cellulose microbeads can replace plastic microbeads


Sunday, June 11, 2017

How University of Bath CSCT biodegradable cellulose microbeads can replace plastic microbeads

“Microbeads used in the cosmetics industry are often made of polyethylene or polypropylene, which are cheap and easy to make. However these polymers are derived from oil and they take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. We've developed a way of making microbeads from cellulose, which is not only from a renewable source, but also biodegrades into harmless sugars. We hope in the future these could be used as a direct replacement for plastic microbeads”

Dr Janet Scott, Reader in the Department of Chemistry and part of the CSCT, commenting on the idea of using cellulose to replace microbeads

Want to get that clean refreshing scrub but without the guilt of polluting the environment?
Scientists and engineers from the University of Bath CSCT (Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies) may have the answer; biodegradable cellulose microbeads as detailed in the article “Scientists make biodegradable microbeads from cellulose”, published June 7, 2017, Physorg.
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They have published their results in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering that details how the microbeads replacements are made from cellulose, the same material found in wood and plants.

Biodegradable cellulose microbeads from a sustainable source could replace harmful plastic ones that have been banned by the US of A in 2017 as noted in my blog article entitled “How US microbeads ban by 2017 means NEPA ban coming to protect Coral Reefs”. 

So how did the scientists make the cellulose into a microbeads replacement?

Microbeads in the Environment - Biodegradable cellulose microbeads

Microbeads are little spheres of plastic less than 0.5 mm in size.

They are added to personal care and cleaning products including cosmetics, sunscreens and fillers to:

1.      Give them a smooth texture
2.      Help remove dead skin by their scrubbing action

A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean, or eight million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year. They present an environmental problem as they are too small to be filtered by sewage filtration systems. The plastic particle can absorb pesticides and toxins and upon being consumed by fish in the aquatic food chain.  Ultimately, we humans may end up eating microplastic in our fish, with deadly results.

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The process involves recovering cellulose from various sources such as from the paper making industry. The cellulose is then mechanical milled and made into a fine powder with the same level of granularity as corn meal. The solution of cellulose is forced through tiny holes in a tubular membrane. This creates spherical droplets of the solution which are washed using biodegradable vegetable oil. The beads are then collected, set and separated from the oil ready for use in a variety of products.

The CSCT has largely achieved their goal of a replacement for microbeads that manufacturers can use, to quote Professor of Chemical Engineering and part of the CSCT, Davide Mattia: “Our goal was to develop a continuous process that could be scaled for manufacturing. We achieved this by working together from the start, integrating process design and chemistry optimisation, showing the strength of the multi-disciplinary approach we have in the CSCT”

Already plans are the works to develope biodegradable cellulose microbeads for use in:

1.      Cosmetics and personal care products
2.      Slow release fertilizers

Physical techniques can be used to make the biodegradable cellulose microbeads harder or softer. With the help of £1 million by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, a team, led by Dr Scott and including Professor Davide Mattia (Chemical Engineering) and Professor Karen Edler (Chemistry) plan to make porous beads, capsules and microsponges.

It also presents some interesting applications for other chemical researchers in Jamaica, as biodegradable cellulose microbeads can be used in cleaning products, both for home cleaning as well as personal hygiene e.g. toothpaste and body washes and soaps.

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